There is much to like about the Yarra Valley. It is only an hour from Melbourne City, for starters, and offers spectacular rural scenery once you break out of the urban sprawl at Lilydale: a gorgeous blue-mountain horizon, lush paddocks of sheep and cattle, and vineyards. The vineyards are the main attraction, offering a huge selection all within close driving distance.
My first venture into the region took in six vineyards in one day of easy driving.
The first stop was Yering Station, a delightful property where we pulled up chairs by the wood fire in the lounge and enjoyed pastries and coffee over the morning paper. The staff were a joy. By comparison, the wine tasting in the timber-beamed barn seemed a tad tame. The cellar door was complemented by a range of foodstuffs and branded merch and the balcony bar looked tempting but not that early in the day. By afternoon our splendid winter’s morning had clouded over to cold’n'crappy so the bar remains untested. The complex has a superb restaurant that not only is architecturally interesting thanks to raw stone and water features, but offers a sensational view of the fields and mountains.
Coldstream Hills, small but shiny with a hillside outlook, had a definite professional flourish to its tastings, with an emphasis on quality and a $5 per glass fee on the reserves (waived with every bottle purchase).
We drove into Healesville to hit Giant Steps-Innocent Bystander, where the crowded restaurant offered a fine view of the winery on the other side of a glass wall, and was also offering tastings from the next-door brewery as well as their own wine. Very friendly staff made this visit a delight, with a cheeky pink moscato proving tempting. We had a chat with winemaker Steve (a fellow Joy Division fan!) who recommended two other vineyards, and very fine recommendations they were, too.
Oakridge and Maddens Rise are veritable neighboures on the Maroondah Highway. Oakridge boasted an intimate cafe and friendly staff and a very tasty 854 shiraz (sadly, at $60, it wasn’t THAT tasty). Maddens Rise was a comparatively new kid on the block, with the cellar door in a superbly fitted out but small shed with only a couple of varieties on offer. The cab sauv was my pick of the day, and staffer Emma was an absolute gem. I was particularly taken by the shed’s panoramic windows: a clever way to enhance the view.
We broke our tastings with a filling lunch at Rochford Wines, a vineyard known for its concert events. One of its standout features was an iron, circular stairway to a first-floor art gallery and second-floor viewing platform. Another was its fudge bar!
Before heading back to the big smoke, we popped into Yarra Valley Dairy for coffee and picked up some of their cheese after a tasting session — a spreadable herb and chilli called Hot Cow and an ashed creamy blue called Black Savourine, both of which were decimated over a Coldstream Hills shiraz that night. I was taken with the shop’s unlined corrugate iron roof and the view from the loo — a very contented dairy cow up to its belly in green grass. Now that’s local produce!
The thing I like about the Yarra vineyards is that the ones I’ve seen all offer a point of distinction, and there seems an effort is being made to put their own stamp on their product. Except for poor old Giant Steps, stuck in an urban surround, they all have a pleasant outlook, too, which certainly adds to the experience.
With more than 50 cellar doors on offer, the exploration has only just begun…
More pictures here.