Famous for its Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, the Yarra Valley near Australia’s south coast is one of the country’s best spots to spend a day among the vines on a wine tour. Just an hour’s drive east of Melbourne, connoisseurs and vacationing day-trippers alike flock here not only to please their palates, but to also enjoy the stunning views of the sun-soaked vineyards. Here’s a starter guide to exploring the beautiful Yarra Valley.
Yarra Valley wine tasting tours
Thanks to the Yarra Valley’s proximity to Melbourne, it’s easy to explore the area in just one day. There are many operators in the area including Wine Compass and Australian Wine Tour Co. Tours typically leave from the CBD around 7 a.m. and will have everyone back around 3 p.m., affording plenty of time to visit four different wineries and stop for lunch (which you will desperately need even if you don’t fall in the ‘lightweight’ category!).
Other options for exploring include hiring a driver for a private tour, driving yourself (make sure someone in your group is the DD, obviously), or cycling between vineyards. A bucket-list-worthy way to explore Yarra Valley is to see it from above, with a hot air balloon ride. The day starts around the ungodly hour of around 4 a.m., but the early wakeup is worth it for the spectacular sunrise views. Tours include a glass of sparkling wine with breakfast before heading off on a wine tour, making for an unforgettable way to experience the best of the Yarra Valley.
While day tours are a great way to get an overview of the region, visitors with more time on their hands should take advantage of packages which include an overnight stay at one of the area resorts—some even have spas! Foodies should be sure to book one of the tours that combines vineyard visits with gourmet food or a stop at a chocolaterie and creamery. Is there any better combination than wine and chocolate?
Few people can brag about having extensive wine knowledge, so staff at the wineries are happy to walk guests through details such as the winemaking process, explaining which ingredients are added into each blend, and how something as simple as sampling a tiny piece of chocolate with a glass of shiraz can dramatically change the taste. To avoid looking like a total rookie, follow these steps during each pour:
- Look at the glass, making note of the colour of wine, clarity and if there is any sediment.
- Swirl the wine in your glass, which allows oxygen into the wine and opens the aromas. Side note: tread carefully if you’re swirling a red and happen to be wearing white!
- Smell the wine to get a hint of what influences were added. Pears? Strawberries?
- Sip the wine and hold it in your mouth, to try and detect the different tastes.
- The best part- drink up! If you’re not fond of a particular variety, there is always a pitcher where you can dump the remnants without offending anyone, to make space for the next pour. Be sure to rinse your glass if you plan on change from a red to a white.
The different wineries
With about 80 wineries established within the Yarra Valley, one could explore the region dozens of times without ever stopping at all of them. While those joining a tour won’t have much of a say in which vineyards they stop at, those organizing their own excursion may want to do some research ahead of time as wineries vary greatly in offerings, size and facilities. As it’s a hard task to feature every single winery in the Yarra Valley in a single article, here’s a look at four popular stops.
One of the prettiest wineries in the region, rustic Yering Station is a popular place thanks to its hilltop perch and generous event spaces overlooking acres of green vineyards below. A picture-perfect courtyard leads into the aptly-named Cellar Door tasting room, where exposed brick walls surround carefully arranged bottle displays, which are bathed in sunlight streaming from the large windows.
Most of the action happens in the adjoining tasting bar, which is a beautiful, open space framed by wine barrels. Those who need a snack will want to head back into the Cellar Door, where the Produce Store offers all sorts of goodies from the surrounding area, including fresh-made biscuits, jam and relish to name a few. Alternatively, head over to their Wine Bar restaurant, and enjoy the amazing views of the surrounding Yarra Ranges while you enjoy gourmet fare.
While Balgownie Estate is best known for its wine, it’s also become a destination thanks to its resort, spa and sprawling restaurant. The hotel itself is beautiful, offering large suites with balconies and unobstructed views of hectares of vineyards—the perfect place to enjoy a crisp glass of Balgownie chardonnay.
While those visiting Balgownie Estate as part of a tour won’t have the opportunity to indulge in its amenities, they will get a chance to grab a delicious lunch. Rae’s Restaurant has floor to ceiling windows overlooking the estate, where diners can pair their wine with dishes such as ocean trout, pork belly and hand-rolled gnocchi. Of course no visit to a winery would be complete without checking out the tasting room, and Balgownie’s includes the chance to sample their award-winning wines. While the large room is nothing to write home about in terms of aesthetics, the staff are very knowledgable and might even give you a slice of dark chocolate to try along with that robust glass of red.
Worthy of a spot on any Pinterest board, Yering Farm is a charming, rustic-chic winery set against a backdrop of the surrounding valley. Unlike most operations, the grapes at Yering Farm are hand-picked to ensure the highest quality, which is a labour-intensive practice dating back decades.
Inside, staff pour guests a rainbow of wine varieties, starting with their crowd-pleasing sweet ciders. Family owned and operated, Yering Farm is all about paying attention to the small details. Only producing about 6,000 cases of wine per year, it’s clear this is a winery that values quality over quantity.
A day in Yarra Valley would be incomplete without a stop at Moët & Chandon’s famous production house. One of the larger operations in the area, perfectly manicured gardens greet visitors as they head toward the reception area.
Inside, a self-guided tour route leads wine lovers past displays detailing Moët & Chandon’s storied history, and explains the production process which has stood the test of time. Guests can also get a peek at the massive vats which house the sparkling wine and brut the company is famous for.
The route fittingly finishes at the Chandon Tasting Bar, where staff outline the differences between the varieties, before pouring each person a beautiful, bubbling glass.
While there is ample space to sip around the bar or in the adjoining brasserie, the outdoor area is absolutely spectacular on a warm, sunny day. Simply sit back and soak in the view of the surrounding vineyards, and you’ll have found the perfect way to end a day in the Yarra Valley.
When to go: Harvest happens in March, when can be an interesting time to visit as you may see the grapes being pulled off the vines. Most wineries are closed on Christmas Day and some also observe Good Friday.
Cost: Due to the wide range of tours available, pricing can range from $120 per person to over $500 for those adding on a balloon ride or overnight stay. Tasting fees are rare, and those who do will often refund the money if visitors end up buying a bottle. For example, there is only a $5 charge for a full glass of bubbly at Domaine Chandon, which is refunded for those who leave with a bottle of bubbly.
Buying bottles: Picking up a bottle or two from your favourite vineyard not only makes for a wonderful souvenir, but is also a great way to support the local wineries. While no one is obligated to buy any bottles on a wine tour, those who wish to are given ample time, and can also arrange to have them shipped home if there are concerns about them breaking in transit. Keep in mind most countries have restrictions about how much liquor can be brought back without paying duty.
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Globe Guide explored the Yarra Valley in partnership with Visit Victoria and Australian Wine Tour Co. As always, hosts have no editorial influence on articles.