If you were to walk into most Pennsylvania state controlled liquor stores, the “Australian” wine section is about 90% Yellow Tail. While the “premium section” has a few Australian wines, you can imagine how exciting it has been over the years to visit wineries in Australia on my holidays. My winery visits in the Yarra Valley, a day tour from Melbourne would add to my Australian wine tastings which started on prior trips in Margaret River (Western Australian near Perth) and the Hunter Valley (outside of Sydney).
Arriving in Melbourne on Saturday, I had planned to go on a bike or walking tour on Sunday to get oriented with the city. It was disappointing to learn from emails on Saturday that both bike tours had a minimum number and would not go with just me. The walking tour was full and could not add me (I was confused by this as well). I didn’t want to waste my Sunday, so I had to rely on the concierge to recommend a wine tour to the Yarra Valley. It was about 4:30 pm so I had to scramble to get this booked for Sunday morning. The concierge gave me two options priced at AUS$180 and AUS$110 respectively. I asked what the difference was, he was funny and said AUS$70 but then followed up and said you visit one extra winery and in his opinion I should save the money and go with the lower priced option (saving money is always a good call).
The winery tour (there are many if you check TripAdvisor) didn’t pick up at the hotel so I had to walk several blocks to Chinatown, the pick-up point. With a few tours departing this pick-up point, the mini-bus for Australian Wine Tour Co pulled up on time.
The driver/guide who had a background in wine, made it clear that he was our driver which he would remind us during the day – not quite the welcoming host in my opinion, so I wasn’t expecting much of him outside the script for the day. We would drive about an hour to the Yarra Valley to our first winery, Yering Station. Now upfront, I need to state that I wasn’t much of a Shiraz fan prior to my visit but I am now a convert! I would leave the Malbecs, Rioja and Carmenere on the menus and opt for Australian only wines during my trip.
Yering Station was a beautiful property with the tasting room separate from the winery with art in the garden. We would have a private tasting with a Yering Station employee who walked us through how to smell the wine, swirl the wine, look at the color and a few more steps (a few of us were impatient and just wanted to drink the wine). This intimate space among the wine bottles was a nice introduction to the day of tastings.
Our lunch stop would be two fold – it was a winery and event space called Balgownie Estate. We would have a private room with a thorough explanation of the wines they had available. We were given a tasting sheet with details of each as well as space to write our notes preceeding our lunch. This set-up fostered much conversation about what we liked and didn’t like as well and why we were doing the day tour from Melbourne. I was jealous of everyone figuring out how many bottles to buy knowing that I wasn’t able to buy or ship any of the wines I tried and liked. The majority of the passengers this day were local to Melbourne and using the tour company to do the driving for them with others redeeming gift certificates – only a few were tourists like me – but we were all having fun drinking the day away. It was at Balgownie that I found a bit of chocolate from Napa.
The third stop was Yering Farm, a small family owned and operated boutique winery. They definitely don’t ship to the U.S, in fact, they only sell at the cellar door. With an orchard on the property, they also make apple cider. The interior of the cellar door was very rustic and inviting – I liked that we could taste all that we wanted – so I tried all of the reds and may have had a second or two. They made some very nice reds. This was my favorite stop of the three wineries.
Our last visit was to Chandon (of Moet & Chandon), well known for their sparkling wines and included on almost all wine tasting tours as the highlight. Our driver/guide did walk us through explaining the various stopping points of the production process. They have interactive displays at each stop which have great explanations via touch screen for your own self-guided tour.
For our tasting, we were seated at two tables and presented a choice of two sparkling wines – a brut and a shiraz. A sparkling shiraz was a wonderful surprise and very, very tasty. It is usually served at Christmas as a refreshing wine (remember it’s summer hot in Australia for Christmas). Chandon has a Napa presence but sadly the sparkling Shiraz is only available in Australia (I checked the website, wine club and distribution options as I really liked this sparkling). Surprisingly, I was able to find a sparkling Shiraz locally that I have yet to try (it has been snow, ice and extremely cold in Philly lately so refreshing is not quite needed yet – hot chocolate is better option).
Once the tasting was over, I went to explore the grounds at Chandon. It was a perfect day to walk among the grapes or just sit outside and soak in the sun relaxing.
Families had children running around playing, picnics were happening, couples were holding hands and others just enjoying their rocking chair view of the vineyard. It was the perfect location to end the day of wine tasting in the Yarra Valley.