Welcome back to the WineFolio Road trip to Yarra Valley! We’re picking up from the end of Part 1 – leaving Healesville and travelling onto the Maroondah Highway (B360) after the turn off to C411 – the Healesville-Koo Wee Rup Road. This is a section of Yarra that is packed to the brim with great places to visit – you can easily spend the whole day in this area across to the B300 Melba Highway in the west.
Your first turning is onto Hill Road on your left, and immediately left into Levantine Hill. This is a substantial property – almost a wine theme park! Their Cellar Door and Restaurant are open seven days a week, showcasing some curated wine selections and Mediterranean-inspired dishes. When I visited, I sat at the bar in the Cellar Door and tasted through several wines – it is a gorgeous spot. The visitor can choose to do that, or indulge in a tasting during a meal in the restaurant. The wine club here is called ‘Inner Circle’ and there’s a room called the ‘Inner Circle Room’ which I think is probably for members, but can be booked, if available, for curated tastings. The Restaurant and the Cellar Door open from 11am.
The winery is also on site – a short walk up the hill, dotted with sculptures and past the helicopters (yes). For $350 you could do a ‘Superior Winemaking Experience’. Do a tour including an exclusive, behind-the-scenes look at the Levantine Hill winemaking process, underground barrel store, and grounds (not usually open to the public), then a tutored tasting experience of four Estate range wines at the Winery with a member of the Levantine Hill team. Follow that up with lunch at the restaurant. That helicopter I mentioned earlier features in an option to fly to the vineyard from Melbourne, have a tasting and lunch, then fly back. Starts at $895 per person.
I tried the Estate ranges, and on to the wines from the ‘Family Paddock’ including a stand-out Melissa’s Paddock Syrah 2016. The Chardonnay is very good – Katherine’s Paddock is the $200 one, but the Estate Chardonnay is excellent as well. The ‘Optume’ wines are the ones you may have heard of that are made in tiny quantities and prices rival that of fine European wines – $880 for the Shiraz.
Directly across the road is Rochford Wines. As extensive – more so, even? than Levantine Hill, as Rochford seems to be an ‘experience’ destination – boasting itself as “The ultimate Yarra Valley day out” on the website. On the day I was in the area, there was an extraordinarily loud ‘Day Out’ ticketed affair, and I have to say it was very off-putting to those in town to taste wines. I drove into the carpark, hopped out and had a look, and straight out again, which was a shame as I’d tried a good Rochford Single Vineyard – Isabella’s 2019 at the Regional tasting that Yarra Winegrowers put on for me (https://winefolio.co.nz/?p=8337). There seems to be two restaurants – Isabella’s and Il Vignetto Pizzeria – which includes a Cellar door, as well as the Rochford Cellar door. I’d wanted to have a pizza, but that had been engulfed by the Concert thing; and as I didn’t have time to do a long lunch, I back-tracked to Healesville and had lunch there. So, probably best to check before coming over that what you want to do, is available (I didn’t, my bad). Website is http://www.rochfordwines.com.au.
Whilst on Hill Rd, make a stop at Pimpernel Vineyards. Founded in 2001 when Mark and Fiona Horrigan bought the site, with planting beginning in 2003 and the winery was completed in 2011. A connection with Dr Bailey Carrodus (Mark Horrigan is a cardiologist) led them to acquiring the talents of Damien Archibald from Yarra Yering as winemaker and vineyard manager. The 16 acre vineyard is dry-farmed, without irrigation, and relies on rigorous hand-pruning, and inter-row crop farming to produce low yields of the highest quality. Scrupulous hand-sorting, foot-stomping and basket-press of grapes completes the picture of seeking perfection in the winery once the hard work is done in the vineyard.
Wines include a Viognier and Chardonnay, but also a Chenin Blanc – you won’t find many of this variety in the Yarra Valley – and a Marsanne that is only a production of 300 bottles this vintage. There are several iterations of Pinot Noir, and a GSM red too. Look out too for Syrah – their flagship is ‘Grouch’ but also whole-bunch versions. Lots to taste and try here. Their Cellar Door is situated hidden amongst the vines – bookings for a visit can be made through the website – www. pimpernelvineyards.com.au. Open from 10am to 4pm on Friday, Saturday and Sundays, they offer an ‘Estate tasting’ for $15, or a ‘Premium tasting’ for $30. It is small groups only (no tour buses here) – find them at 6 Hill Road.
Turning down Skye Rd and then onto Hexham Rd leads you towards Soumah. This property has a focus on styles from northern Italy including Savarro, Pinot Grigio, Ai Fiori (Rosata), Brachetto, Marzemino, Nebbiolo and Barbera, as well as Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Shiraz and Viognier. To visitors, Soumah offers several options. The Cellar door is open every day, with options to do a Classic Wine tasting at $12, or a Piccolo Tasting which is a self-guided, seated tasting where you get to try a ‘piccolo’ platter, a selection of small bites from the current menu for $25. The Premium Wine Tasting offers a seated tasting and the opportunity to try the Equilibrio (reserve) range as well as special releases, museum releases and European imports, in their Premium Wine Room. This is $25 per person. All options should be booked.
Their restaurant – Al Fiori Trattoria – is open seven days for lunch – 11:30am to 3pm (4pm on weekends). In Summer you can also do the Merenda, which means ‘afternoon snack’ in Italian — its a tradition that is intended to fill the spot between lunch and dinner! Merenda is served from September to March, on weekends between 3pm to 5pm. Soumah wines spill across several tiers, from the d’Soumah wines at under $35, to the Single Vineyard wines which include Nebbiolo, Marzemino, Savarro and several Chardonnay and Pinots. Continuing up, you’ll see the Equilibrio (reserve) and then a left turn into the more experimental ‘Muse’ wines which include ‘The Butcher’ – a Syrah, Nebbiolo and Cabernet Sauvignon.
Turn back onto Hill Rd and down away from the highway, turning right into Briarty Rd and into Yarra Yering. Established in 1969, it is now firmly one of the leading lights in Australian wine. The Cellar Door received a ‘Best Small Cellar Door’ award from Gourmet Traveller Wine in both 2017 and 2020. Open every day from 10am, with a maximum booking size of six people, it is an intimate affair – it is in the house of founder Dr Bailey Carrodus, with views across the surrounding vineyards. The Portfolio Tasting is the only tasting on offer and is about an hour in duration. Note they do not offer food, or anything other than that Tasting – no wines by the glass.
In 1973 the first vintage of Dry Red Wine No.1, a Bordeaux inspired blend and Dry Red Wine No.2, a northern Rhone blend were produced. These are now icons of Australian wine. Current winemaker is Sarah Crowe, who was named James Halliday’s Winemaker of the Year in 2017. The wines win awards on a continual basis, and score 100/100 with some regularity. When I visited I tried the full range, with the Underhill Shiraz being a particular highlight for me. To my mind the best Shiraz in Australia, and one of Australia’s best wines at all. The Viognier from the Carrodus tier of wines is very interesting, and since there’s only two barrels of it made, it is one to look out for. The $175 price tag might put some off though.
There are a couple of wineries down here – the next is Coldstream Hills. As a more in-depth introduction, check out my visit here and chat to their winemaker Andrew Fleming on this page > https://winefolio.co.nz/?p=8892. Coldstream Hills dates from 1985 – the creation of legendary winemaker and wine writer James Halliday, producing premium Chardonnay and Pinot Noir since then. The Cellar Door is in front of the winery and vineyards at 29 Maddens Lane – open Thursday to Monday from 10am to 5pm. They recommend bookings to ensure that you are not disappointed but also welcome walk-in visitors.
The Estate ‘Yarra Valley’ range also features Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon and very good sparkling wine – as I discovered on my visit. This slice of the valley floor does produce very good Cabernet Sauvignon, and the Reserve range has a Cabernet Sauvignon that was amongst the best wines I had on my visit to Yarra. I really loved the different expressions from The Deer Farm Vineyard in the cool Upper Yarra. Consistent with their philosophy to seek out vineyard expression, the outstanding 2021 vintage was of such quality that it provided the opportunity to release a limited range of Single Block wines. Both Chardonnay and Pinot Noir… but The Deer Farm Block D Pinot Noir was sensational.
Our last visit on this section will be Medhurst – the Cellar Door is located at 24-26 Medhurst Road. Located on the hill overlooking the vineyard, winery and picturesque estate. The view itself is worth coming for, and you can try a selection of Medhurst wines or simply sit back and enjoy a glass with the view in front of you. Open Thursday to Sunday 11am to 5pm, with food available at the Cellar Door from Friday to Sunday. It is quite a small venue and the food menu is designed to offer wine bar food – think charcuterie platters, cheese and snacks.
The new winery, featuring underground barrel storage, at Medhurst was designed by Folk Architects and recently won the Victorian Architectural Award for commercial design. It is here that winemaker Simon Steele crafts their Cabernet, Chardonnay and Pinot. The recent vintage of Reserve Pinot Noir gained 97 points in the latest Halliday Wine Companion book. Their Estate range has a couple of must-try wines, including the YRB – a blend of Pinot Noir and Shiraz; and the Shiraz – a varietal that is very good here.
Next time we’ll take off again from the Maroondah Highway (B360) end of maddens lane, at Dominique Portet, but that’s enough for today. Happy exploring!