Less than an hour out of Melbourne, a world class wine region awaits. This dream destination is situated amongst rolling hills reminiscent of Tuscany, dotted with vineyards, local providore stores, romantic b&b’s and of course, cellar doors.
The Yarra Valley wine region, which encompasses towns such as Yarra Glen and Healesville, has a rich history in beer, cider and wine production dating back to the early 1800’s. The Ryrie Brother planted the first vines at Yering Station in 1938, making it Victoria’s first wine growing district, and 7 years later the first Yarra Valley wine was made by James Dardel. From there viticulture spread rapidly.
Today, the Yarra Valley is one of the world’s premier wine growing regions with over 90 cellar doors and many more vineyards. It is home to some of the largest and most well known names in wine, including Domaine Chandon (Moet & Chandon’s Australian winery), De Borteli and Yering Station, as well as smaller boutique cellar doors. The regions long history in beer and cider production is also holding strong with successful micro-breweries and cider makers, including Aussie favourites Yering Farm, Coldstream Brewery, and Hargreaves.
As one of the southernmost wine regions on the Australian mainland, the Yarra Valley is a continental climate influenced by cold and wet weather moving in from the Southern Ocean, making it perfect for winemaking and one of Australia’s foremost cool climate wine producing regions. It is also a widely diverse area, with varying elevations and varying soil types. The geology of the Yarra Valley is what primarily drives and dictates the varies of grapes planted and their resulting expressions.
Chardonnay and Pinot Noir account for 60% of total production, but the Yarra Valley is also well known for producing exceptional sparkling wines, cabernet sauvignon and shiraz. It is a legally defined Geographical Indication and so any wine labelled ‘Yarra Valley’ must consist of at least 85% Yarra Valley fruits. The local grape growers work hard to create a relationship between the wine and the land it originates from, intensifying a sense of place in Yarra Valley produced wines.
Characteristics of Yarra Valley wine varieties
- Chardonnay: The Yarra Valley’s premium grape variety, Chardonnay grapes are very responsive to growing conditions and this has lead producers to grow in the cooler, higher altitude vineyards in the south. In keeping with current trends, Yarra Valley Chardonnays are generally produced in a restrained style, lighter in weight and less oaky. They are characterised by aromas and flavours of citrus, early harvest stone fruit, minerals and florals.
- Sauvignon Blanc: Yarra Valley Sauvignon Blancs tend to have roundness and fruit generosity that set it apart from those coming from New Zealand. Flavours include fresh tropical fruit, guava and cape gooseberry, while some producers use older neutral oak barrels to achieve a more savoury outcome that pairs beautifully with food.
- Pinot Gis/Pinot Grigio: Pinot Grigio is lighter, dryer and crisper, while Pinot Gris is rounder, richer and more fruit rich in style. These wines are made in the simplest way possible to maintain their elegance and freshness, and as such often represent the most affordable Yarra Valley white wines.
- Sparkling Wine: Premium styles of sparkling wine tend to be associated with cool climate regions suitable for Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes, making the Yarra Valley an ideal candidate. Wines that are produced with more Chardonnay grapes tend to be fresher, lighter and crisper, while those with a higher proportion of Pinot Noir may be richer, full bodied and yeastier.
- Rosé: Rosé made by Yarra Valley producers tends to be more dry, soft and refreshing. Flavours vary from a more muted savoury style to overtly fruity.
- Pinot Noir: This grape variety produces the most sought after wines from the Yarra Valley. It is also very diverse, ranging from perfumed and aromatic, fruity, savoury and earthy, or densely flavoured and structured.
- Cabernet Sauvignon: Cabernet Sauvignon is generally suited to the warmer, northern end of the Yarra Valley. The best examples have an aromatic character and elegance that pairs perfectly with robust meats. They tend to feature flavours of red current, dark berries, leafy and vegetable characteristics.
- Shiraz/Syrah: Shiraz prefers warmer, lower altitude vineyards. Yarra Valley styles are much more medium bodied compared to the heavy reds of other regions. They can often have an intensely savoury characteristic that is a little smoky, but some producers make a more fruit forward style with flavours of cherry, plum and prunes.