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Your 2022 Guide to the Yarra Valley Wine Region VIC

Posted by David Laity on
Your 2022 Guide to the Yarra Valley Wine Region VIC

A Snapshot of the Yarra Valley Wine Region

The Yarra Valley Wine Region is located on the traditional lands of the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin nation.

It's actually Victoria's oldest wine region - the valley got its start, right back in the mid-nineteenth century, producing fine table wines as made by the early European settlers. By 1890, the Yarra Valley produced 60% of the total wine output in Australia. However, as Australian tastes developed more towards fortified styles, such as sherry or port, the older European wine styles fell out of favour and, by 1921, the last vintage of the valley was crushed. The vine age of the valley reflects the age of the wineries in the region, so unlike the Hunter or Barossa Valley, the vines here all date from the 1960s. The re-emergence of the Yarra Valley wine industry began in the 1960s and, with the exception of the pandemic years, has gathered pace ever since.

The Yarra Valley landscape is one of gentle rolling hills, with the valley floor at an elevation of approximately 200 metres above sea level. The climate is cool to mild, with warm days and cool nights - ideal growing conditions for the classic cool-climate grape varieties such as Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon. The Dandenong Ranges rise to the east of the Yarra Valley, providing protection from hot easterly winds and also creating a rain shadow effect, which further contributes to the region's moderate climate.

Yarra Valley wine region

photo by Jenele Lugge - licenced under shutterstock

Broadly speaking, Yarra Valley wineries are divided between those in the Upper Yarra Valley and those that are found in the Lower Yarra Valley. Aspect is a crucial element of terroir - that element of a wine's 'personality' derived from the soil and climate of its home - and not only refers to the direction the vineyard faces, but also the slope and elevation of any given block of vines.

Many an award winning winery is to be found in a valley and there's a reason for this - the slopes of the valley, in this case caused by the Yarra River as it winds its way to the sea - allow the cold air to drain away, thus allowing the maximum amount of warmth and ventilation to ripen the grapes in these cooler regions.

The climate in the Yarra Valley is cool to mild, with warm days and cool nights - ideal growing conditions for the classic cool-climate grape varieties. It's a bit cooler than Bordeaux and a bit warmer than Burgundy if you're partial to a French territorial comparison. Speaking of the French, the Yarra Valley is also one of the few places in Australia that produces sparkling wine using the traditional méthode champenoise.

Take Me There!

How to get to the Yarra Valley Wineries

The region is situated an hour east of Melbourne, Victoria. It's a popular destination and very well serviced with transport options. It takes about an hour to drive to Healesville from the GPO of Melbourne CBD.

Taking the train is dead easy - it's on the Lilydale line all the way to the end, and then a bus from there to the Yarra Valley. You can catch either Bus Line 684 or 685. It costs about $9 in 2022.

By bus takes roughly an hour and a half and costs $5. It's Line 684 which runs from near Southern Cross Station, Melbourne CBD to Healesville.

The area is also popular with day-trippers - along with the proximity to Melbourne - there are other attractions nearby such as hiking trails, restaurants, cafes, a wide range of accommodation, and shopping venues.

photo by Lankyrider - licenced under wikimedia commons

What are Yarra Valley wines like?

An overview of Yarra Valley wines

Modern Australian wine styles (i.e. since about 1980) are often dominated by powerful fruit flavours, such as blackberry or damson plum, with strong oak characters of vanilla and cedar. Yarra Valley wines are lighter bodied, with pleasant aromas of red fruits (e.g. cherries, strawberries) and flowers (e.g. violets), together with refreshing acidity which makes them good accompaniments to food - the local region has become famous for its 'fresh' Mediterranean-style cuisine. The wines are often compared with those of New Zealand, where there is also a long cool growing season.

Terroir - Soil and Climate

How do the soil and climate affect wine flavour in Yarra Valley?

The Yarra Valley is described as a cool climate region, but it's really more of a continental climate - usually far from the ocean and featuring warm summers, cool winters and a large variation in temperature between night and day - than a maritime climate (Margaret River, for instance). This kind of climate is quite suited to pinot noir and helps to balance the acidity and sweetness of the fruit.

The soil is broadly divided between the older, grey soils of the valley floor and the younger, more fertile, red soils of the Yarra Valley. The red soils are ideal for growing pinot noir, as they retain heat and moisture, while the grey soils are perfect for chardonnay - they don't hold onto too much water, so the vines struggle a bit and the grapes become small and intensely flavoured.

One well-known town in the region, Healesville, is slightly warmer than Dijon, somewhat cooler than Bordeaux and much cooler than Coonawarra. The local climate makes it one of the coolest major wine-producing regions of Australia.

If you were to oversimplify the process of growing good wine grapes, you could say that it is a balancing act between letting the sugars develop, and keeping some acidity in the fruit. The riper the grapes the 'fuller' the flavour, and cool climate wines, with their greater acidity, are often described as 'elegant' or 'balanced'.

The coolness also means that the wines tend to work well with food, and the region is experiencing a boom in 'wine matching' menus at restaurants.

Something out of the box?

Unusual wine varieties in Yarra Valley

For those who like to experiment with their wine tasting, how about some lesser known Portuguese varieties - Tinta Cão, Souzão or a Tinta Amarela?

Mourvèdre

Mourvèdre, the M in GSM (Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre) is another type of grape that you don't see so often. It's mostly used in blends, sometimes as the basis of brief skin contact rosé, but when the conditions are just right, Mourvèdre can shine all on its own - brightly coloured, full of intense flavour and colour, and with a good whack of tannins to pair with a meal high in oil. If that sounds like your bag, lucky you! Production of Mourvèdre rose 96% over 2021.

Brief skin contact rosé made from Mourvèdre is another type of wine that is increasing in popularity

Nebbiolo

Nebbiolo is said to have a certain resemblance to Pinot Noir that isn't always apparent, but the 2019 Mayer Nebbiolo was scored 98 points by Halliday - the highest score yet for this varietal in Australia - and he commented that the colour and perfume was very reminiscent of Pinot Noir.

However, the body of the wine is often quite a different experience - it has high tannin, high acidity and a noticeable minerality. Cooler climate versions of this wine tend to be more herbaceous and you may pick up notes of sour cherry, leather, and cranberry. It's traditionally been used in Barolo - a blended wine from Italy - perhaps less well known that Burgundy or Bordeaux blends, but it's a staple of award winning vineyards of Italy.

The stars of the show

The top varietals of the Yarra Valley wine region

Grapes grown here include Rosé, Chardonnay, Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, Riesling, and Pinot Noir. Of these, the latter is probably the most widely recognised as the signature wine variety of the Yarra Valley.

Pinot Noir

It's a tricky grape to grow well, but when it delivers it's one of the most complex and subtle flavour profiles of any wine. It has thin skins and tight clusters of grapes, which makes it prone to disease. It's been described by a famous sommelier as 'Sex in a glass' which gives you a pretty good idea of why winemakers bother with this finicky grape.

Good Yarra Valley pinots are often light but intense in colour, have a flavour profile that ranges from raspberry and strawberry through to notes of the forest floor, get good structure from tannins and are often compared with those of New Zealand. Tannins contribute to colour stability and mouth-feel in wine. Some tannins are more beneficial to the quality of red wines than others and can have a lovely smokiness.

Where the tannins of pinot tend to be mild, the acidity is often medium to high and this is strongly affected by the weather in any given year. 2021 was an excellent harvest season and the pinot from that crush has been described by Wine Companion as "perfumed, ethereal and outstanding"

Chardonnay

Pinot Noir and chardonnay are both well known as two of the Yarra Valley's most consistent high quality wines. However, whereas pinot is known as a fickle grape, chardonnay is grown in almost every wine growing region of Australia. Perhaps this widespread availability led to a case of familiarity breeds contempt, because by the late 1990s Australian chardonnay was suffering from an image problem. It was considered too oaked, too buttery, too fruit forward. More than twenty years later and maybe the pendulum has found its happy place. You can now find styles of chardonnay in Australia ranging from rich, ripe and oaky right through to crisp, lean, minerally European influenced wine.

Here, in the Yarra Valley, an hour east of Melbourne, there are a variety of soil types - predominantly a sandy loam on top of clay (more so on the northern side of the Yarra Valley) or a red volcanic soil (found more in the Upper Yarra Valley) - and this soil type will have a great bearing on the flavour profile of the chardonnay grown here. Thus, there is a variety of grape expression to be found here, but the trend has been toward minimal intervention, picked a little earlier, nice n crisp with elevated acidity for a few years now. Wine Australia states that "A new generation of winemakers are bringing experience, expertise, experimentation and bold ideas that are shaking up the Australian Chardonnay landscape" and who are we to argue?

Sparkling Wine

Champagne House Moët & Chandon selected the Yarra Valley as the site of their Australian expansion in 1986 and ever since it has been a famous Yarra Valley winery and an integral part of the Yarra Valley image. Unlike the French region of Champagne, Australian winemakers aren't obliged to include X% of certain grapes, so experimentation is a big part of the Australian sparkling scene. Sparkling Pinot shiraz is made by Domaine Chandon, Madden's Rise have a sparkling rosé and Hoddle’s Creek winery making a sparkling from almost 100% Pinot Blanc.

Stellar Cellars

Some of the best wineries in the Yarra Valley wine region

You're going to want to drink great wine, no? How about a visit to one - or all - of these following vineyards:

There are over 60 wineries in the Yarra Valley that produce award-winning wines. Here's a handpicked selection of interesting cellar doors from the area:

  • Yarra Oakridge - Oakridge Wines cellar door is open seven days a week and for something a little different you can try a Chardonnay Master Class tasting. The grapes are sourced from various parts of the Yarra Valley and their 2019 vintage won the Australian chardonnay of the year award.
  • Yering Station - Yering Station has consistently won five stars from Halliday's wine guide over the years. Planted in 1838, it was Victoria's first vineyard and it has one of the most historic and impressive cellar doors in Yarra Glen.
  • De Bortolis - DeBortoli actually have four cellar doors. Two in New South Wales - Hunter Valley and Bilbul, and two in Victoria - Rutherglen and the Yarra Valley. Of these, the latter won Best Large Cellar Door in the Yarra Valley in the Gourmet Traveller Wine's Best Cellar Door Awards 2019. Throughout April 2022, they'll be celebrating 40 years of making The Noble One (their signature dessert wine made from botrytis grapes), by releasing museum vintages and current releases. They also have impressive credentials regarding sustainability.
  • St. Huberts - St. Huberts has an impressive wine list, it was one of the first wineries to reopen in the 1960s and make Rousanne and Blanc de Noir sparkling alongside their well regarded cabernet sauvignon.
  • Coldstream Hills - Coldstream Hills is one of the iconic Yarra Valley wineries and was founded by the famed James Halliday in 1985. His namesake cellar door was then opened in 2010. They have a number of awards.
  • Tarrawarra - Tarrawarra Estate is known for their single block heritage varietals and features some stunning architecture in their subterranean cellar door. The Tarrawarra Estate Yarra Glen restaurant has a strong focus on local produce.
  • Domaine Chandon - Domaine Chandon produced it's first cuvée (this refers to the first-pressed juice for making premium sparkling) in the Yarra Valley in 1989. These days, they probably have the largest range of méthode traditionnelle sparkling wines in Australia.
  • Payne's Rise - Payne's Rise is a boutique winery in the Upper Yarra Valley. Their 2019 ‘Anniversary’ Cabernet Sauvignon won gold at the Yarra Valley Wine Show
  • Squitchy Lane Vineyard - Squitchy Lane Vineyard is another boutique winery and this one 'aims to be different.' They bottle Fume Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc along with Pinot Noir.
  • Zonzo Estate - Zonzo Estate Yarra Valley have a very Italian vibe going on - with their restaurant, cellar door and wine selection - it's a good place to try some Sangiovese, Barbera, Fiano or Sagrantino.
  • Seville Estate - Seville Estate won the 2019 Halliday winery of the year award with ten of their wines scoring over 95 points. They've got it all going on with a cellar door, a restaurant, a homestead and self contained cottages.
  • Balgownie Estate - Balgownie Estate Yarra Valley (they also have a vineyard in Bendigo) offers glamping, cottages, a day spa (opening in 2022), a cocktail bar and a restaurant. After the success of the Bendigo vineyard, Balgownie purchased the Yarra Valley site - on the Melba Highway - in 1999 and began planting pinot noir and chardonnay.
  • Levantine Hill Estate - Levantine Hill Estate has blocks with a similar slope and orientation to Burgundy's Côte d'Or. They make chardonnay, pinot noir and a Bordeaux style blend called 'The Wild Duck Creek Estate. There's also a Levantine Hill truffière site - it's one of the few wineries growing truffles in Australia.
  • Chapel Hill Winery - Chapel Hill Winery was one of the first twenty five wineries to be planted in the Yarra Valley. They were also one of the first to be organic and biodynamic. They make a range of wines including a very popular Semillon Sauvignon Blanc.
  • Wantirna Estate - Wantirna Estate is a family owned business with a focus on single vineyard, terroir driven wines
  • Rochford Wines - With multiple restaurants, cellar doors, function spaces, wedding options and music events; Rochford Wines is one of the top wineries near Melbourne offering a one-stop Yarra Valley experience like no other.
  • Mandala Wines - Mandala Wines is another five star winery with two separate vineyards - Yarra Junction is high altitude and grows pinot, and Dixon's Creek is 104 acres and hosts the family home, the restaurant and the cellar door.
  • Yarra Yering - Yarra Yering was founded in 1969 by Dr Bailey Carrodus - a pioneer in the winemaking industry of the valley and recognised as a legend of Australian wine in general. Their cellar door is located in the old family home and has won several Best Small cellar door awards,

Need a nap after all the fun?

Best accomodation options

Gimme a home among the grape vines .... Yarra Yering not only snagged the 2022 Winewise Championship best shiraz for their 2020 Underhill Shiraz, but they also offer a homestead with breathtaking scenery and able to sleep up to 10 people.

If you're staying in a tent or caravan, there are more than 30 different options listed here. They coverthe range from free through to some pretty fancy spots such as glamping at Yarraloch.

view from Yarraloch glamping tents

photo courtesy Yarraloch

Alpaca Ridge B&B is only a twenty minute walk to Healesville and it has alpacas!

The Sutherland Estate cellar door has one of the most impressive views of all the Yarra Valley wineries and you can stay the night in one of their two private towers.

Why visit the Yarra Valley in 2022?

The lowdown

The 2021 harvest was in keeping with previous years in the best possible way. Rain at the right time and the temperature perfect for a long, cool growing season. Pinot gris and chardonnay performed particularly well and 2021 will be a vintage to seek out for cellaring. One local winemaker, after harvesting 2021's vintage, declared "The last time we felt this excited looking at a bracket of chardonnays was 2017. " With such excellent quality and high yields, but less of an international market to export to, expect to be able to pick up exceptional bottles of Yarra Valley wine for much less than might have been the case a few years ago.

Something to see while you're there?

If you're in the Yarra Valley, there are a few things you can't miss. Healesville is one of the main towns in the region, and it's home to some of the best wineries in Victoria. You can also find some great restaurants and cafes here, as well as shopping venues. Another popular spot is the Maroondah Reservoir, which is located a short drive from Healesville. Located a short drive from Healesville, the Healesville Sanctuary is a must-see for animal lovers. This zoo is home to many Australian animals, including kangaroos, koalas, dingoes and wallabies. This is a great place for a picnic or to go for a walk, and there are also some lovely views of the valley.

photo by Arun Sankaragal - licenced under shutterstock

Finally, another must-see is Mount Donna Buang. This peak is located close to Warburton, and offers some amazing views of the surrounding area. It's worth considering doing the climb on a clear day, because you'll be rewarded with some spectacular views of sunrises and sunsets.

The food scene of the region is also superb. Lots of farm-to-table, great local produce, chefs that cut their teeth in the best restaurants of Melbourne and lovely views to enjoy with your meal. There's always many a good reason for the gourmet to visit Yarra Valley - 100 year-old milking sheds to sit and eat cheese in, a chocolate making business, multi course food and wine pairings at spectacular vineyards, a high tea with fine champagne and a multitude of restaurants.

Fancy a bevy while visiting?

Beer, wine and cider in the Yarra Valley Region

A beautifully landscaped and historic location for wine lovers while in the Yarra Valley is Coombe Yarra Valley - the old home of the famous Australian soprano Dame Nellie Melba. There's an a la carte restaurant and seven acres of grounds and a cellar door offering wine tastings.

The Yarra Valley Oktoberfest, happening sometime in October 2022, will have not only plenty of German beers, but also a wide range of ciders and wines to sample.

photo by Jack Frog- licenced under shutterstock

How about some good tunes and good times?

Rochford Wines hosts concerts throughout the year. Higher Sounds is one of the bigger gigs of the year - it will be held on Saturday, 22 Oct 2022.

The Healesville Music Festival has a number of local and international acts and is a great way to experience another side of the wine region. It's on in November 2022.

Bringing Granny and the kids?

Family Friendly things to do in Yarra Valley

Both the 84m drop Steavenson Falls and the Redwood Forest are close to Yarra Valley wineries and offer the kids a chance to stretch their legs and see something majestic.

Healesville Sanctuary is somewhere I would always take friends visiting from overseas. It's ideal for a family day with lots of places to eat, cute Australian animals to see and lots of information available to learn something new as well.

Kinglake Forest Adventures features a treetop climb and lots of bike trails.

photo by THP Creative - licenced under shutterstock

The Yarra Valley Farmer's Market is held the third Sunday of each month and is an excellent place to buy local produce, have a browse and grab something to eat before exploring the vineyards and wineries of Coldstream.

Geeking Out?

Quirky and clever things to do in the Yarra Valley wine region

The Upper Yarra Museum in Yarra Junction is an old railway station converted into a museum with a large collection of agriculture, logging and railway historical items.

The Maroondah Aqueduct is not only historically significant, but it has a number of lovely old exotic trees. It's very well preserved.

The Wandin Silvan Field Day is a big agricultural show that attracts thousands of visitors each year. It's on in October 2022 in the lovely town of Wandin.

Feeling Artistic?

Arts, Culture and Entertainment in the Yarra Valley

There are 22 art galleries galore throughout the Yarra Ranges. Many artists live in the area and whether your taste leans to contemporary art, indigenous art, sculpture, photography or historic paintings, you'll definitely find something of interest.

  • Art at Linden Gate - sculpture and exhibitions
  • Waterwheel Galley - local artists and artisans
  • Bruno’s Art and Sculpture Garden, Marysville - a personal favourite
  • TarraWarra Museum of Art, Yarra Glen
  • Sandra Bardas Art Gallery at Worawa College, Healesville - aboriginal art
  • Heide Museum of Modern Art, Bulleen - sculpture, landscaped gardens, historic buildings, exhibitions
  • Yering Station exhibit both established and emerging Australian artists in all art forms.

photo by Roderick Eime - licenced under wikimedia commons

Looking for Something Sporty?

Active events and outdoor sports in the Yarra Valley

There are white water rafting tours available from Wonga Park.

Lake Mountain Resort has mountain bike trails, snow activities and guided wildflower walks if you're more the stop and smell the flowers sort.

photo by Jason G. Duesing - licenced under unsplash

The Yarra Valley Golf Trail takes in both Jack Nicklaus and Greg Norman designed courses.

The Wrap

We've hope you've enjoyed this run down of the Yarra Valley wine region and some of the incredible wineries and activities it has on offer. We will be regularly updating this page and greatly welcome any input you can offer. And if you go ahead and visit the Yarra Valley, we hope you love it as much as we do.

Cheers

The team at Goodwill Wine

Who is Goodwill Wine?

Goodwill Wine is Australia's only certified social enterprise wine company.

What's that you ask?

We are a wine company with soul. While other wine companies are focussed on maximising their profit, we are focused on maximising our impact. We do this by donating half our profits to Australian charity. Better still, when you buy, you get to tell us where the money goes.

Our wines are every bit as good as our competitions - in fact hundreds of five star reviews would indicate better (see below) and thanks to Australian's choosing to buy their wine ethically, we have been able to donate almost half a million dollars to date.

So why would we do this?

Our founder, David Laity lost most of what he owned in the Black Saturday bushfires. Thanks to the generosity of fellow Australians, he was given the chance to start again and so he made it his mission to pay forward the help he received.

You can read his story here

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