Melbourne’s had some uncharacteristically pleasant weather lately, so I’m trying to make the most of it with as many weekend road trips around the state as possible. Both my boyfriend and I have pretty stressful jobs at the moment and with a long weekend along the Great Ocean Road on the cards already, we decided to make the most of the sunshine with a change of pace in the Yarra Valley.
The Yarra Valley is Victoria’s top wine region, with more than 80 wineries dotted in the countryside around Healesville, Coldstream and Yarra Glen. This was my second trip to the Yarra Valley, after visiting Domaine Chandon and De Bortoli last Autumn.
Victoria has around twelve wine regions, depending on who you speak to. I kicked off summer with an afternoon working on a remarkable sunburn while sipping rosé on the Mornington Peninsula and I spent a regrettably hungover day choking down shiraz tastings at Heathcote on Show last winter. (The wine was good, my alcohol tolerance that morning was not.)
The day after this trip to the Yarra Valley, I ended up roaming the Macedon Ranges for an afternoon and tried out a couple of wineries and one brewery too. The Yarra Valley is still my favourite.
With so many high quality wineries to choose from, deciding where to go in the Yarra Valley can be really overwhelming. A friend linked me this super handy Yarra Valley Wine Map, which makes it easy to break the region into trips based on the nearest towns or highways. There’s also a fancier interactive version online too.
It would make sense to pick one section and visit a couple of wineries in the same area, but I already had my heart set on visiting Tarra Warra Estate and Dominique Portet, so any hopes of efficiency went out the window.
I have to confess, my choice in wineries is pretty heavily influenced by the atmosphere and setting of the whole winery, rather than just the wine.
First of all, there’s not much risk of wandering into a bad winery in the Yarra Valley. If you can make it in one of Australia’s top wine regions, you probably squeeze a good drop.
Secondly, I don’t discriminate. I will happily try any wine you put in front of me, from dessert wines like moscato and botrytis semillons to big, bold reds like merlot, shiraz and cabernets. I’ll even drink chardonnay! (In fact, I’ve tried several in the Yarra Valley which convert even the most diehard “Anything But Chardonnay” wine snob).
Finally, I go to wineries to relax, not to take tasting notes. Whiling away the afternoon in the sunshine over a glass of wine or two is that much better when you’re in beautiful surroundings.
With relaxation and enjoying the great outdoors in mind, choosing Tarra Warra Estate and Dominique Portet was a no brainer.
Down the rabbit hole at Tarra Warra Estate
Tarra Warra Estate has it all: rolling hills, a working vineyard and winery, a cellar door for tastings, a restaurant with killer views, a spot in the sunshine to enjoy the views and an art gallery.
The cellar door was built into the hill last year, as an extension of the working winery. Burrowing into the hillside, Tarra Warra’s cellar door is a beautiful, modern wine cave. Inside, the clean lines of the ultra modern space were brought back to earth with enormous skylights and windows that flooded the room with light, potted plants and a beautiful wooden bar for wine tastings. Past the private dining table at one end of the cellar door, you could see into the working wine tunnel.
Wine tasting was $5 per person, refundable on the purchase of a bottle of wine. My favourite white was the Roussane Marsanne Viognier and my favourite red was the Barbera. Both winemakers on duty were warm and friendly, and took the time to tell us about each wine, despite the cellar door being quite busy.
We were already planning on stopping for a cheap and cheerful lunch at the Beechworth Bakery in Healesville, so we didn’t eat at the restaurant. Instead, we grabbed a coffee after the wine tasting, on the deck overlooking the estate.
I would have loved to enjoy a glass of wine out here, but as that didn’t seem to be an option, my morning coffee was the next best thing.
We had good intentions to visit the onsite Tarra Warra Art Gallery after our wine tasting, but we were running a little late and had to choose between the art gallery or risk missing out on a free cheese tasting at Yarra Valley Dairy later that afternoon.
Free cheese tasting won, naturally.
As we walked in to Beechworth Bakery in Healesville, we couldn’t help but feel like we’d been there before. We soon realised we had – at another outpost of the bakery in Ballarat. As the name suggests, Beechworth Bakery is originally from Beechworth, and has now spread to a handful of locations around regional Victoria.
We each had a meat pie, and split a massive French Vanilla Slice afterwards. Country bakeries are the absolute best!
Hailing from France, ninth-generation winemaker Dominique Portet began a new chapter in his family’s winemaking history when he pioneered the Australian cool-climate wine industry, drawing on his experience his native Bordeaux, as well as from his experience working in the Napa Valley, Champagne, Provence, the Médoc and the Rhône Valley. Since the 1970s he’s established three Australian wineries: Clover Hill in Tasmania, Taltarni in the Pyrenees and most recently, Dominique Portest in the Yarra Valley in 2000.
Today, his son Ben heads the winemaking team, combining his family’s French winemaking heritage with techniques and tastes from the New World.
The setting is something straight out of France. The vine covered cellar door is washed in sunny pink paint and is filled with farmhouse style furniture, as if it has been plucked from rural France. The tasting bar was crowded when we arrived, but by the time we’d finished our tasting and ordered a drink each, the outside terrace was quiet and we nearly had the place to ourselves.
They had sold out of their signature Fontaine Rosé by the time we’d arrived, so instead we tried the bolder, fruitier Rosé Famille. As the name suggests, this wine was intended for family and friends and not for sale to the wider market. As a result, there are no marketing or fancy production costs, so the bottles come in at a very reasonable $16 – half the price of even the cheaper bottles of wine in the Yarra Valley.
It was my favourite, so we took a bottle home and I enjoyed a glass of it on the terrace, while David cooled down with a frosé.
We could have stayed at Dominique Portet all afternoon, but we had free cheese to taste!
Yarra Valley Dairy
We made it to Yarra Valley Dairy half an hour before close, but the tiny dairy was still packed. The restaurant, which overlooks the farm, had finished serving lunch but we were still pretty full from our bakery lunch.
We were in and out pretty quickly. We tried the six cheeses of the day at the counter and settled on the savourine, a semi-mature goat’s cheese. Yummm!
Once we’d bought our cheese, we jumped back in the car and headed back to Melbourne.
Spending an afternoon sipping wine in the sunshine surrounded by the rolling hills of the Yarra Valley had us seriously mellowed out. Even once we’d driven back to the city (and crawled our way through Punt Road’s notorious traffic) we were still completely unwound and chilled out all evening. The perfect way to kick off the weekend!
Have you been to the Yarra Valley? Any wineries you’d recommend? Where’s your favourite wine region?