The Yarra Valley pundits are saying the valley’s had the best vintage in 2017 since 1992.
Chardonnay and Pinot Noir put their best feet forward, but there’s much else to love besides. An easy drive north of Melbourne, Healesville, with the fabulous sanctuary and a swag of cellar doors almost within arms length, it’s not a bad choice to use as a base. Then? Hit the trails.
Phil Sexton is the owner, winemaker and jazz fiend, and named the love of his life - this stretch in the Yarra - after John Coltrane’s break out album. Why not? His single vineyard wines tell stories of fruit, love, care and passion. The cellar door is fabulous, as it and the restaurant blend into one big, immersive wine experience. As they say, “You’re in the thick of it.” And if you’re there in vintage, February – May, there’ll be winemakers around the barrel hall to help the tasting along. The just released 2016 Sexton Vineyard Chardonnay at $45 is a must try, and you can’t go past the wild yeast fermented Applejack Vineyard Pinot Noir, 2016, at $55.
If you’re going to enjoy the area, a stay at Argyles Yarra Valley Yambacoona Homestead is the sensible thing to do. Gorgeous heritage and luxury accommodation, the restoration has been a tribute to life in a different, slower time. Then head to Boat O’Craigo with hand-crafted wines, family tradition, and some highly regarded reds to savour. The Reserve Yarra Valley Shiraz, 2015, single block and hand picked, rested in oak, will cellar and at $55, bargain. Lunch is not too shabby here either.
A little north in Dixon’s Creek, De Bortoli do their thing with Italian heritage, wine, and terroir. The family estate, still run by Leanne De Bortoli and her winemaker husband, Steve Webber, delivers a unique cellar door experience. The De Bortoli’s have continuously produced award winning wines in the European tradition. And you’ll love it if you taste the wines with their cheese, and their food. The cellar door has had some cosmetic renovations and to continue the love, do join their busy wine club. The standouts for now? Their Yarra Valley Estate Vineyard Pinot Noir 2016, a pure whole-berry fermentation to get the best of the grape, with red fruit aromatics, a touch of spice and a plump mouthfeel, at $23? Incredible.
In Yarra Glen with a female winemaker, Clare Halloran (staff have one word for Clare: ‘Wonderful’), and an award winning cellar door courtesy of Kristin Thompson Architects, there’s some serious girl power happening here. The owner, Marc Besen based his estate on quality before all else, and built the Tarra Warra Museum of Art to house his collection and donated that to the public. So double reason to visit. But back at the winery? The cellar door is just that – a real cellar built back into the land like a bomb shelter. But a very upmarket and delicious surprise awaits. Boy there are seriously good tastes to have. Don’t miss the Reserve Yarra Valley Chardonnay 2015, $50 – small batch with oak, stone fruit and good to cellar.
Still in Yarra Glen, Yering has history aplenty as the oldest vineyard in the Valley – 1838. The building, sculptures, grounds are all spectacular – a blend of the old and new, even the walls of the cellar/wine tasting room are called the gallery. The entire experience is designed to be interactive, with a bottle shop where you can handle the wines, and they do private tastings as well. A standout? The 2015 Yering Station Reserve Pinot Noir, $120, small batch and only made in exceptional years – nothing in 2016, but the 2017 is promising a knock out.
Driving south to the Coldstream area, the massive red rectangular column, suspended as if by magic, hangs over the landscape as if to say, “We’re here to stay.” The business has been named Australian Winery of the Year and with good reason. David Bicknell, who is currently Winemaker of the Year is known for his amazing work with chardonnay and pinot noir. He’s ‘the grape whisperer’. And the whole idea of the cellar door? So you can look out at what you’re drinking while you’re drinking it. The 2015 Chardonnay has the green fruit and perfect balance you expect here, and the 2016 Hazeldene Local Vineyard Series Pinot Noir, at $38, showcases the terroir of the Yarra. And if you need any more reason to visit, Matt Stone, one of Australia’s premier chefs oversees the restaurant with a total focus on sustainability, indigenous ingredients and the harmonious blend of the best of the local region.
With the name, comes responsibility. Important? You bet! Iconic? Yes! The tasting room keeps winning awards, and as the only Australian sparkling specialists with real French heritage, well, you’d expect them to be great. And they are. The cool climate and superb soil was the perfect terroir for sparkling and still wines that win awards and fans all over the world. Dan Buckle still heads the winemakers, and the Whitlands Blanc de Blancs 2013 has the fine bead and light fruit and nut aromas you expect from a first class sparkling, ($42). But if you just happen to coincide your visit with a Sunday, watch out! You may be drawn into Sunday School, where a wine discovery class will have you tasting, making, and food matching! The refurbished cellar door might be smugly new, but the view is the same – spectacular.
This is the home of the famous ‘James Halliday Cellar’ named after the Australian wine icon who founded this patch of paradise and continues to write, critique and discuss wines and wineries to this day. If you get up early, you’ll see the cold stream of air that hangs, like silk, over the vines in the cool mornings. Straight to the cellar door and an important recent release: The Yarra Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2015, $60, and the first release since 2006. The pinot noirs and chardonnays – 3 or 4 single vineyard wines are serious must tastes, and the Reserve Chardonnay and Reserve Pinot are made in small quantities in specific years. Ask and you shall receive!
Still in the Coldstream area, is an old, historical estate run by third generation Guill de Pury, who pulled what had become a relic back into wine prominence in the 1970s. There are beautiful antique barrels, a buggy, and the place has a general rustic feel, but Guill has been known to hold vertical tastings just to prove his wines do hold. The Pury’s don’t open to the public all the time, but they do hold open weekends and if you time your visit with one of them, then go. Their shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon/red blend are outstanding.
South east of Coldstream the home of the Seville Estate Shiraz still has McMahon family involvement, with grandson Dylan as winemaker turning out premium quality and getting it just right. The Dr. McMahon Yarra Valley Shiraz 2014 hit 97 points, the 2016 Chardonnay, with a beautiful balance of citrus, oak and ginger is on point, and will cellar - if you can wait! And at $36, why not? The cellar door has been newly renovated, more in sympathy with the surroundings, and if you want access to the really top numbers, you can do a paid tasting. You are warned!