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As restrictions ease in Victoria, cellar doors have been given the green light to open albeit under slightly different circumstances. With that in mind, I headed to the Yarra Valley to see how different things are, if at all.
First stop was Giant Steps winery in the new pop-up cellar door on the mezzanine floor of Habituel Bakers and Coffee Roasters, a temporary set up until the new facilities are built. As with all our visits, we had booked ahead – a prerequisite for a hassle-free visit. Bookings are essential because the set-up for tastings must satisfy minimum spacing regulations for social distancing, thus limiting guest numbers for each booking. While the wafts of coffee and pastry from down below may be distracting to some, they do provide a delicious post-tasting treat. Alternatively there is seating outside.
We began tasting the 2019s with an unoaked chardonnay made with clay egg vessels before moving on to the single vineyard chardonnay and finishing with the estate blend. Tasting the chardonnay in order of highest to lowest elevation provided an excellent reminder of the effect elevation has on the final wine. The Wombat Creek (410m) was tight and lean with bright acidity and more mineral and green fruit notes. In contrast the Tarraford (100m) had tropical and stone fruit notes that spilled across the palate, confirming the vineyard location as lower and slightly warmer.
Equally enjoyable, the single vineyard pinot noir included my personal favourite, the Primavera, with a familiar intense core of purple and black fruits framed by bright acidity and dusty tannins. Another highly recommended wine is the Tarraford Syrah, demonstrating the full potential of Yarra Valley to produce highly perfumed wines of soft black fruit and spice.
Our tasting had come to and end, so we headed back down the main street to Payten & Jones. Operating as a bottle store during the week and open for cellar door visits on the weekend, bookings are essential if you want to taste the wine. This is one of my favourite cellar doors with its bright white walls, hardwood floors and entire vines attached to the walls – roots and all.
Looking down a row of eight wines, I knew they were ready for us. The Valley Vigneron (VV) series is a standout for value and ease of drinking. The VV sangiovese is a delicious wine and if you’re a wine geek like me, taste it alongside the Leuconoe Year 4 Sangiovese, a sangio on steroids – a fragrant mix of ripe fruit and herbs. Another standout is the Major Kong Syrah. I tasted the first release back in 2014 when it was a wild one, super perfumed and packed with, as I noted in my review, “herbaceous greenery”. Fast forward to the 2019 Major Kong and the monkey has been tamed a little, showing dense fruit and spice with a silky texture and enticing intensity. It is easy to see why this has won global praise and flies off the shelves.
The final appointment of the day was a late lunch with Steels Gate in Yarra Glen. Currently tasting at the bar is not possible but bookings can be made for lunch or a mid-afternoon platter and wine. This was my first visit to Steels Gate and the wine list contained an interesting mix of Yarra Valley wines and wines made with fruit from the Nagambie, including a Graciano.
A vibrant, inky violet colour coated the sides of my glass of Graciano, originally from the Iberian peninsula. This wine possesses a deliciously velvet texture that explodes with flavours of sour red cherry and raspberry fruit, ripe black fruit laced with purple flowers and fresh herbs, coiled around a liquorice and anise core finishing with mineral graphite notes – wow, what a journey! Obviously that one came home with me.
So what has changed with cellar doors in the Yarra Valley? Booking ahead – while some cellar doors might take visitors who don’t have appointments, it is highly unlikely and to avoid disappointment you should book ahead. Each appointment is timed so you can easily plan your day. Contact details will also be recorded at each appointment in the event that contact tracing is required. Appropriate social distancing, hand sanitiser and a warm welcome were all available in abundance – so get booking and head out to support your local cellar doors!