The Yarra Valley is a bit of an enigma. It is one of the big and renowned wine regions of Australia alongside the Hunter Valley, Barossa Valley and Margaret River, yet it is elusive and mysterious as a destination. Sure, the wine buffs will quickly point to Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz as typical Yarra Valley wines, but for the rest of us, we probably ask ourselves: “What wine comes from the Yarra Valley?”
The question is made even more difficult because the nearby region of the Mornington Peninsula is arguably more well known for Pinot Noir, and Central Victoria (Bendigo, Heathcote and Ballarat) are equally well known for Shiraz.
The first vines were planted in the region in 1838 at Yering Station and the first vintage was made in 1845. Twenty years later St Huberts and Yeringberg were established, and for the next 30 years it was just these three wineries. In 1889 Yering Station won a major European wine award (the only wine from the Southern Hemisphere to do so). In the 1890s two other major plantings at Yarra Yering (then called Yeringa) and nearby by Dame Nellie Melba’s father bought the total area of vines to nearly 1000 acres.
Almost disbelievingly, by the 1930s, all the wineries and grapes were gone; victims to bad weather, fashion and the depression, and vines didn’t re-appear until the late 1960s, and then with a rush from the 1980s and onwards. While the original wineries still exist today, it is in name only as all of the vines were re-established.
As far as famous trail blazer go, the Hunter Valley has Maurice O’Shea and the Barossa Valley has Max Shubert, in the Yarra Valley, it is Dr Bailey Carrodus of Yarra Yering, who arguably stared and inspired the modern Yarra Valley. In 1969 he identified the Yarra Valley – with almost no vines – as the perfect place to plant the vines to make the wine he fell in love with while studying at Oxford. With a degree in horticulture and a PhD in plant physiology, Dr Carrodus knew a thing or two about what he was doing; around him grew the Yarra Valley we know today.
The Yarra Valley is a cool-climate region, and thus Shiraz from here is distinctly different to Shiraz from Central Victoria and the Barossa Valley, both well known for their warm climates. The main difference between cool and warm climates is the how ripe the grapes are before harvest, and the subsequent ‘jammyness’, or sweetness, in the finished product. If you like the big, fruit-driven, high alcohol Shiraz of the Barossa, there is a chance Yarra Valley Shiraz might not be your favourite. However, if you prefer wines that are more elegant, subtle and restrained, then the Yarra is for you.
Equally, being a great region for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, you can also expect to find great sparkling wines! Blanc de blancs, Blanc de noir, Méthode Traditionelle and even some left field (but very nice!) sparkling merlot and rosé! Rest assured that when you leave the Yarra you’ll have plenty of bubbles for lazy Sunday brunches, elegant entrées or even decadent desserts!
Travelling around the Yarra Valley is pretty easy. It is divided into three main areas, along major highways (Maroondah, Warburton and Melba Highways) that form an almost perfect triangle, and nothing is too hard to find. It includes three smaller towns: Healesville and the very well known Healesville Sanctuary, a couple of great pubs and a burgeoning café scene; Yarra Glen, probably most well known for its horse racing track, but equally lively local pub scene and now Hargreaves brewery; and Coldstream, which is these days is almost light industrial, but also home to Coldstream brewery that for a long time defined craft beer for the region and state.
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