Located just an hour’s drive from downtown Melbourne, The Yarra Valley is the birthplace of Victorian wine. And if you look at Hallidays Wine Companion (the bible for Aussie wine) – as I do when looking for references in the world of Australian wines – you’ll see that, in my 2022 edition, the Winery of the Year is from Yarra – Yarra Yering. As are three more of the Top Ten list – Helen’s Hill Estate, Oakridge and Yeringberg. Now, you’ll be pleased to hear that I did the hard yards and visited all of these for you – to write a set of articles about the region!
The area has a 170-year legacy, but is far from resting on its laurels, awards and commendations. In fact, it’s never been more vibrant – home to a slew of both established and ‘young gun’ winemakers. Over eighty wineries span the Yarra Valley, showcasing the diversity of its terroir, from the Central Valley up to the cooler hills of Upper Yarra. The landscape is a big part of what makes it such a great wine region. With mountains on either side, it follows the iconic and culturally significant Yarra River across the valley floor, as the river winds its way towards Melbourne.
You’ll not go short on foodie adventures either – with boutique operations like the Yarra Valley Dairy, Jayden Ong and Herd, as well as the gourmet stars of the winery restaurants at TarraWarra, Levantine Hill and Chateau Yering. On my visit I had the most delightful simple lunch, sitting on a terrace at Oakridge Estate – a dish of grilled fish and spaghetti squash.
We’ll start the WineFolio guide to Yarra with places to see, visit and stay within a few minutes drive of Healesville – where I stayed on the nights I was in the region. Healesville is a charming old town with heaps of history – there’s a map that will self-guide you on a walking tour of the township, taking in the historic sites. A wealth of little boutiques, cafés, delicatessens (and a super bakery) mingle with Cellar Doors and restaurants. One place you should not miss is Barrique – a Wine Bar and Wine store. It’s where Wine Yarra Valley generously hosted me for a regional overview of the region on my first evening. They took me through the main styles and sub-regions so I was primed to explore for the next three days.
The shelves of Barrique are groaning with all the best of the local bottles, and the glass pour list is superb. Large communal tables encourage conversation, and the bottles on the shelves only have the prices written on them – to find out more about the wines you have to ask one of the staff, who have an encyclopedic knowledge of the stock – again, it’s encouraging a dialogue about it. This place just oozes ‘community’. Healesville should be very proud and thankful to have this resource.
Nearby spots for a settle down, and a wine and a feed, in town include the Healesville Hotel – nice surroundings… but frankly rather average food and a matching wine list – could do better. Herd Bar & Grill across the street is much better – they really seem to put heart and soul into both food and drinks – we had an excellent bottle of Gembrook Hill Pinot Noir with steaks, oysters and small plates of deliciousness. Innocent Bystander serve as both a Tasting Room (for the label of the same name) and a restaurant with shared boards, wood-fired breads and pizzas and more. No.7 Healesville offers food on a similar slant, although I didn’t have time to pop in there.
For shopping Gewürzhaus Spice House have a shop in town – with artisan blends of spices. As a New Zealander I was nervous about getting these back through our bio-security checks at the border, otherwise I’d have had half a dozen of the precious packets in my luggage. Kitchen and Butcher is another gem – “Where country butcher meets delicatessen, a little baker, charcuterie & lots of local fresh produce” is their slogan and it’s hard to disagree. I bought a superb terrine and a loaf of good bread to have with pre-dinner drinks, and it wasn’t half bad.
I also rated The Laneway – a mexican-themed spot where the breakfast burrito was hot and tasty – like the coffee. Four Pillars Gin Distillery offer drinks, masterclasses and gin tastings. Bookings are essential. Again, I couldn’t find the time to do this justice, but I hear it is very popular. They’re on the edge of the main part of town – near No.7 and Jayden Ong.
Heading west from town you can decide to head towards the Maroondah Highway (B360) or across the Healesville-Yarra Glen road (C726) – with the Yarra River in between them. In this article, we’ll take the first option, and I’ll look at the other side in the next write-up. Before driving onto B360 though, let’s take a side trip on to C411 – the Healesville-Koo Wee Rup Road. There are a few places down here that are worth exploring – you may need to make bookings though as they’re off the beaten track and are by appointment only.
As you get about 4kms out from town, by Badgers Creek, you’ll pass by the Centare Vineyard, owned by Simon Li. This is in the process of re-planting to classic Bordeaux red varietals but they have three ‘Old Blocks’ of Chardonnay, Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon and wines are available from these – around the $100 mark. www.centarevineyard.com.
Next up is Rob Hall Wines ‘Harriet’s Vineyard’ on Pine Ave. Planted in 1996, to 8 acres of vineyard (4 each of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay), it sits at the foot of Mt Toolebewong. Rob was winemaker at Mount Mary from 2002 to 2011 before starting his own label in 2014. He also makes a label called Tangent which has “experimental batches, or a small parcel from a great vineyard” and are available to subscribers. www.robhallwine.com.au.
Thick as Thieves were among the wines that I tried at the Regional tasting put on by Yarra Winemakers for me (see here > www.winefolio.co.nz/?p=8337 ) – the ‘Levings’ Pinot Noir 2021. Syd Bradford is the man to contact if you wanted to have an appointment for a tasting at his place – the old Cypress Ridge Vineyard is now his home. The label has Nebbiolo, Arneis, Gamay and Syrah as well as that rather good Pinot. www.tatwines.com.au
Look out for an article that is specifically about a visit I made to Timo Mayer. It’s coming up soon on WineFolio. Timo had double-booked himself, so I spent most of the visit talking to son River, who makes a lot of the Bloody Hill range, but I did manage a quick chat with the legend himself. The Bloody Hill vineyard and the winery are on Miller Road, and you’ll need to contact them for a time to visit. “Bring back the Funk” is their motto, as they say on www.timomayer.com.au. I won’t spoil the fun of reading the article that’s coming soon, but a review or two of his wines are already here > www.winefolio.co.nz/?p=8948 and here > www.winefolio.co.nz/?p=4869.
You don’t have to double back on yourself and head back towards Healesville. You could keep going in the same direction and you’d shortly arrive at the Warburton Highway at either Yarra Junction or Woori Yallock, depending which turn you took. Then you could head off towards the clutch of wineries at Seville – which I’ll detail in a different section/article on the site. But let’s assume you do head back to the Maroondah highway, and I’ll pick up the next part of the trip in Yarra Valley Part 2 soon!