Located around 1 hour east of Melbourne, the Yarra Valley is Victoria's premiere cool climate wine region. Best known for its sparkling wine, chardonnay, shiraz and pinot noir, the Yarra Valley has long been a popular day trip for Melburnians and visitors alike.
With over 160 wineries and 300 vineyards, there is no shortage of choice and many wineries offer fantastic food to boot. Whilst there are many smaller vineyards in the valley, you'll certainly recognise the name Moët, with Moët & Chandon's 'Domain Chandon' winery being one of the most popular places to stop.
Like many of us who do not explore our local area nearly enough, I am guilty of growing up on the outskirts of the Yarra Valley, and even having a sister who lives in the Valley, but not going on a wine tasting day. When we were invited on a day trip with Wine Bus Winery tours, we jumped at the opportunity to better explore the Valley's wine culture and we weren't disappointed.
Joining the tour
Excited for a day in the Valley, we met our friendly driver Ian on the dot on 9:20am out the front of St George's Cathedral in the CBD. There were 9 of us in the bus for the day. 3 from Brisbane, a couple from the UK, myself, Pete, Ian and his daughter Camilla who came along for the ride.
After a comfy ride out of town, we began to head into the eastern edges of the Valley. This is where Ian's passion for the region became apparent. With plenty of information about the history of the Valley and a great knowledge of its wineries and grape varieties, he was easily able to answer any questions brought up by the passengers, and also pointed out some interesting sites such as maremma sheep dogs and alpacas. Unbeknownst to us on the tour, alpacas are excellent at scaring off stray dogs, and are a fixture for many farmers. It was great to learn more about an area I thought I already knew quite a bit about!
First stop Domain Chandon
A few years back Domain Chandon held a summer festival of music, wine and gourmet food on their lawns that I attended with a group of friends. Despite it being a 40°C, I had a fantastic time and loved every wine that they had to offer. With these great memories in mind, I was excited to try some new wines.
The sommelier presented us with four options. At this winery you are initially offered a choice of 4 wines to taste. You receive a full glass of this wine and then should you wish to try the others, you can pay a small fee of $10 to complete a full tasting. Our options were a brut, sparking pinot shiraz (often described as 'Christmas in a glass'), cuveé riche and a rosé. Although tempted by a sparkling glass of Christmas, I opted for the cuveé riche which I thoroughly enjoyed whilst looking out over the rolling hills and lush green grounds.
Whilst the others opted in for the larger tasting set, Ian showed Pete and I around the site and it was warming to see Ian collect people into the fold who weren't on the tour to share his passion and knowledge about the winery. We headed downstairs into the vault where a selection of the champagne currently carbonating away is turned a quarter of a turn several times a day in order to achieve that natural bubble that us champers fans enjoy. As a bonus, I got to have a solo look around the room, and whilst I was tempted to sneaky peak a bottle home, I resisted the urge!
Badgers Brook Winery
Feeling satisfied after a few glasses of bubbly, we headed back into the bus for the short drive to Badgers Brook Winery. With 7 wines on offer at this winery, it is a sensible choice to also pair this tasting with lunch at the gourmet Tramonto restaurant, which is a short stroll from the cellar door.
For the whites, we sampled their Sav Blanc, Viogner, Pinot Gris and Chardonnay. For the reds a Pinot Noir, Shiraz, Cab Sav and my personal favourite a Fortified Shiraz. After much banter and chat about the wine, we moved into the restaurant for lunch.
It was hard to select, with dishes such as deep fried chicken with sriracha sauce, an open salt bush lamb souvlaki and fresh salmon on the menu, but I made my choice of the gourmet beef burger, served with a side of sea salted chunky sweet potato fries and a tangy dollop of herby goats cheese. When embarking on a day of serious wine testing, I think that a delicious but hearty meal is essential. After this meal, we all left with full and satisfied stomachs ready to continue the sampling.
The vineyards in the Yarra Valley operate in a number of ways. Some properties are simply vineyards, who grow grapes that are then on sold to wine producers that mix and blend to make their yearly batches. Others both grow and produce their own wine, either wholly from their own grapes, or from a combination of those they grow and those they buy in.
Lastly, there are some vineyards that grow their own grapes, but send their grapes off site to be produced into wine and then the best of that wine is then returned to their cellar door. This was the case for the Hanrahan Vineyard.
Smaller in scale than the previous two vineyards, the boutique nature of this property held appeal. We sat comfortably in their funky shed style cellar whilst tasting their chardonnay, pinot noir, shiraz and my favourite their moscato.
In an interesting twist, this vineyard offers a reverse BYO where they encourage their guests to bring their own food, which can be eaten as a picnic, cooked in their pizza oven or on their BBQs. Guests can then purchase Hanrahan's wine from the cellar door and enjoy it in their picturesque grounds that offer fantastic views over the hills and to the river snaking its way through the valley.
Helen and Joey Estate
Whilst making our way from vineyard to vineyard, a feature of our time in the van was hearing a new story or joke from Ian. A great storyteller, he had us all enthralled in his story style jokes. Ian had promised that upon arrival at our last winery, Helen & Joey Estate, we would be presented with the animal that 'Noah had left behind'. Upon arrival we were indeed, with the mascot of this winery being the mythical unicorn. Unfortunately it was a little wet for us to climb on for a photo, so we paused to enjoy the view before heading in to try our final batch of wines.
This vineyard had a relaxed approach to wine tasting, allowing the guests to guide what we were interested in tasting. We tasted a large range of wines including those listed in their tasting package as well as a few that weren't. Our host offered us pinot gris, three different chardonnays, two pinot noir, a cab merlot, cab save and a late harvest sweet wine.
We were both impressed with the large range of wine produced at this vineyard and the complexity of flavours in the wine. Whilst we'd resisted purchasing previously, we left Helen and Joey with a bottle of the Cab Sav to enjoy at a later date.
Chocolate and ice-cream anyone?
Now a trip to the valley, and now the Peninsula, is incomplete without a visit to the Yarra Valley Chocolaterie. Famous for its hand made artisan chocolates and unique hand crafted gelato, it was the perfect place to finish our tour.
We stopped past the chocolate buttons for an obligatory spoonful (or several) and even though still rather full from lunch, managed to squeeze in a scoop of gelato. I opted for the salted caramel and Pete the cookies and cream. If you are visiting, we recommend selecting your gelato from the outdoors stand where you can find some of the more unusual flavours such as avocado with basil or cookies and cream with kale.
With full tummies, smiles on our faces and lots of laughs behind us, we headed back into the city. All in all it was an excellent day that everyone on the bus thoroughly enjoyed. The best thing about this tour is that it is great for locals, people from interstate and those from overseas. There are so many vineyards to visit, so many wines to try and the knowledge that Ian brought to the day kept us thoroughly engaged.
Whilst it may have taken me a long time to finally attend a wine tasting day in the Yarra Valley, this trip has certainly ignited my passion to head into the valley more often and explore the wonderful producers in this region. We were both very pleased to be guests of Wine Bus Winery Tours on this occasion, however all opinions are our own and our satisfaction with this tour is both genuine and warranted.
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