It comes as no surprise to many that certain parts of Australia have centuries-old winemaking traditions. Even less of a surprise is the fact that on any given day, you can take winery tours that provide a first-hand insight into the culmination of the winery’s efforts, albeit in moderation. Most wine connoisseurs are familiar with the Yarra Valley – a region notorious for producing some of the best vino in the land.
A Brief History of Yarra Wines
The Yarra Valley winemaking tradition goes all the way back to 1838 when two cattle-ranching brothers moving their livestock south from Sydney got tired of dealing with smelly cows and decided to work with some aromatic wine grapes instead. They planted two types of different varietals, and the area was later taken over by a Swiss native whose descendants turned it into a major wine centre known as Yeringberg.
This winery would later go on to win the Exposition Universelle of 1889, and although the region would be converted to dairy farming by 1937, this remains the only instance of a winery in the southern hemisphere earning such accolades.
At was at this point where the stage was set for a strong wine culture in the Yarra Valley; even though major development took a hiatus, surprisingly, until the 1960s. Wantirna Estate, founded by Reg Egan in 1963, was one of the first modern wineries to spring up in the area, after which was soon followed by Coldstream Hills and establishments by Moët & Chandon – the French champagne maker.
Enjoying the Modern Results
If you’ve never gone on an enotourism, or wine tasting, adventure, there’s no better time to start than the present, and there’s no better destination than Yarra. In addition to being home to many different globally famous cool climate wines, the area is known as a unique dining mecca in the midst of the countryside.
The fact that so many people have had a hand at winemaking here actually works out quite nicely for you. Unlike some other winemaking regions, you won’t find yourself getting tired of only tasting one kind of wine, unless you decide to overdo it. There are traditional yet uncommon chardonnays, acidic wines closer to burgundies, merlots, shiraz and many different flavours between. Let your palate be your guide.
For starters, there are some wineries you probably won’t want to miss. St. Huberts Vineyard, established in 1862, is one of the most famous. It spearheaded the 1960s revitalisation and is known for having rare seasonal specials like Roussanne as well as typical varieties like Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir.
You’ll also want to stop in at Yering Station. Set on the site of the original first vineyard in the valley, it’s a now repository of modern and traditional culture. Some people come just to check out the architecture and the Art Gallery, knowing that these sights are well worth stopping in for. Of course, the Regional Farmers market on every third Sunday of each month, embedded local produce store and the seven days a week winery operation means that wine lovers never feel left out either. The abundance of regional fruit and a modern restaurant make Yering Station an ideal spot for an extra-long lunch or, as many dedicated enotourists prefer: a late afternoon breakfast.
Of course, there are plenty of modern wineries to take in. Try Giant Steps/Innocent Bystander where you can enjoy a bit more of a contemporary aesthetic. Giant Steps produces wines from single vineyard sites nearby while Innocent Bystander incorporates a bit more creativity by sourcing fruits from all over. Both wines are made side by side using gravity flow methods to deliver small batches that result in a unique dichotomy and give you an excuse to do more tasting. The cheese room, artisan bakery and craft beers don’t hurt a bit, either!
Naturally, the beautiful Yarra Valley countryside is worth coming to see in and of itself. Hikers love Steavenson Falls, the tallest waterfalls in Victoria, and everyone enjoys the chance to visit the 84-metre high mountain ash on the Cumberland Walk.
If you’re lucky enough to be plotting a holiday from other parts of the country or from overseas, to experience something that will no doubt leave its mark the most convenient way of getting around is by hiring a car from the airport.
From here, taking in scenic routes such as the forested Black Spur drive while searching for an undisturbed picnic spot in the midst of a gigantic ash forest is about a beautiful as it gets. You never know when you’ll see a new winery, a national park or a health spa you want to stop in at, so take it easy and go at your own pace.