Yarra Valley. Credit: Rick Liston
NOTE: This article was first written in March 2015 and a lot has been happening in ‘The Yarra’ since then. With this in mind, I have included a few updates on the goings-on with cellar doors and so forth. Enjoy!
After several years living in Melbourne I’m often asked for cellar door recommendations for the Yarra Valley, a region I visited regularly during that time. A good place to start is Wine Yarra Valley and below is a list of some of my favourite places to visit – it’s certainly not definitive and like all things wine, it is constantly evolving but it might serve as a useful starting point for planning your visit.
Being just over an hour’s drive from Melbourne and centred around the foodie town of Healesville there is much to love about a weekend away in the Yarra. In Healesville there is also an excellent wine shop that is a must if you want to see what smaller producers in the Yarra are up to. Barrique Wine Store hold regular tastings and have an excellent selection of producers including those who are usually too small to have a cellar door. The other great place to find these small production wines is the Yarra Valley Dairy and if you like cheese this is the place to go. Yarra Valley Dairy usually have something on tasting over the weekend and often have the producer on hand to chat about the wines.
Wines to look out for at Barrique Wine Store:
- Salo: This is made by two top class winemakers, one Aussie (Steve Flamsteed), the other Kiwi (Dave Mackintosh). Both have or still work for Giant Steps and they release a Yarra Valley Chardonnay and a Hawke’s Bay Syrah under the Salo label – both a worth a look. The Chardonnay is hands off and exciting stuff that ages nicely while the Syrah is dark and spicy and really rather tasty.
- Arfion: I have written about these wines before. Dave Mackintosh produces a range of wines that are a great combination of grabbing your attention and being so deliciously drinkable that the glass is empty before you have finished contemplating just how much you are enjoying the wine!
- Journey Wines: I came across Damian’s wines just after I moved to Hong Kong and every time we go back to Melbourne I make sure to taste them again – just to confirm they are as fabulous as I think they are. These are wines I always bring back with me and they are wines I strongly recommend you make the effort to seek out. They are beautiful wines of elegance, refinement and complexity creating absolute pleasure in a glass.
- Payten & Jones: One of my go-to wines from the Yarra. I have been fortunate enough to enjoy the wines since the early days and they are consistently great. I have written about them before and like many in this list, a bottle of two always comes home with me from Melbourne! <<<UPDATE JANUARY 2018: Payten & Jones have just opened a cellar door! It’s open 7 days a week so check out their website for hours and be sure to visit. END OF UPDATE >>>
- Bird on a Wire: Not much Marsanne is made in the Yarra but Caroline Mooney does a great job and it is well worth looking out for a bottle. She also makes a highly awarded Pinot Noir, Syrah and Chardonnay.
Where To Visit:
<<<UPDATE AUGUST 2017: Brown Brothers have acquired Innocent Bystander separating it from Giant Steps and leaving it to be managed wholly by Brown Brothers.
The new Innocent Bystander cellar door is located across the carpark from Giant Steps, in the old White Rabbit Brewery buildings. It is well worth visiting both cellar doors for the different experiences offer; single vineyard and estate wines alongside a carefully crafted dining experience at Giant Steps or pop over to IB for coffee, a quick drink at the bar, or a sit-down meal and a range of wines and cider on tap, by the glass or by the bottle. END OF UPDATE >>>
Giant Steps cellar door and restaurant is a great place to visit. This is a Phil Sexton creation, who you might remember was one of the owners of Little Creatures Brewery before it was sold to Lion in 2012.
Giant Steps has a wide selection of wines including their Innocent Bystander and Giant Steps ranges. Innocent Bystander represents good value for money while the Giant Steps is the premium selection at very reasonable prices. The wine is excellent quality and having enjoyed it since the cellar door first opened I can confirm significant research backs up this claim!
The portfolio is dominated by Chardonnay and Pinot Noir as you might expect from the Yarra Valley but there is a very popular Moscato and a superb Bordeaux blend – Harry’s Monster – 2006 was one of our favourites. And while I don’t drink a lot of Merlot, the Sexton Vineyard 2010 Merlot is definitely one to look out for.
If you plan to eat at the restaurant and are visiting Friday – Sunday I strongly recommend you book in advance, they get super busy and we have been turned away without a booking. Also, there is a $10 AUD fee to taste through the Giant Steps range but this is refundable if you purchase a bottle to take home and I must admit I have never left empty handed …
Yering Farm is a smaller vineyard and one of my absolute favourites – you should definitely make sure you stop by and they are on the same road as Yarra Valley Dairy which makes it super convenient. I have drunk their Chardonnay since we arrived in Melbourne in 2006 and it ages beautifully. They also produce a Cabernet Sauvignon which we have enjoyed with 10 years age and it shows lovely complexity and finesse. And their sparkling is rather delicious too!
Domaine Chandon is such a fun cellar door experience! The short tour is a great introduction to how sparkling wine is made and the restaurant offers a tasting plate of four sparkling wines with cheese. You can sit inside the restaurant and do the tasting while staring at the breathtaking views of the valley and vines.
Yarra Yering is the perfect place to visit during the winter – a roaring fire often welcomes visitors during this time. And if you are local I strongly encourage you to sign up for membership. Their membership tastings often offer a chance to taste museum vintages and verticals alongside the latest release.
They produce a sparkling wine which is usually released with quite a bit of age on it and it is wonderful as is their Bordeaux style white, Dry White No. 1. You should also taste through their outstanding reds for which they are perhaps more well known – Dry Red No.1 (Bordeaux blend) and Dry Red No. 2 (Shriaz, Viogner). The only complaint I have is the wines are under cork and I have lost a few to cork taint which is so frustrating in this age of screwcaps.
Coldstream Hills was previously owned by James Halliday and is now part of the Fosters Group. This is a great cellar door to visit, especially as there is an older gentleman (sadly I don’t know his name) who is usually there and he has an incredible knowledge about wine and the industry.
Four Pillars Gin, while not strictly a wine cellar door this gin is well worth looking into if you are a gin fan like me. I have written about them before and have visited Master Distiller, Cam Mackenzie, a couple of times – last time we caught up he confirmed a cellar door would be opening in Healesville in 2015 – how fabulous is that? <<<UPDATE NOVEMBER 2015: The Four Pillars Distillery Door opened late 2015/early 2016 and is open 7 days a week and fabulous it is! END OF UPDATE >>>
Something to get your started on planning your visit and I would love to hear where you do end up going – and if you have any recommendations be sure to let me know!