The lush Yarra Valley is Victoria’s premier wine region and weekend getaway – partly for its close proximity to Melbourne, but mainly for the 80-plus wineries, superb restaurants, national parks and wildlife.
This is the place to rise at dawn in a hot-air balloon over patchwork fields and vineyards, and to kick back with a pinot noir at world-class wineries.
Situated just 45 kilometers east of Melbourne’s CBD, the Yarra Valley is a large and diverse region.
So diverse, it is hard to make any conclusive observations when you consider the range of influences which include both Mediterranean and continental climates, elevation from 50m – 1250m including the influence of the Great Dividing Range, and a number of soil types.
All these influences in addition to the standard factors such as varying rainfall, temperatures, wind etc contribute to a dynamic and varied region that continues to challenge and excite the winemakers.
The Yarra Valley is cool in relation to the rest of Australia’s viticultural regions, cooler than Bordeaux but warmer than Burgundy. Harvest typically commences in mid-February with Pinot Noir and finishes with Cabernet Sauvignon in April.
These dates correspond to September and November respectively in the northern hemisphere. Frost is rarely a problem but can affect the lower vineyards on the valley floor from time to time.
Notable wines of Yarra Valley
For the white wine lovers, Yarra valey offers:
- Chardonnay: widely regarded as the Yarra Valley’s premium grape variety. The wines are made from grapes that are typically picked at lower levels of sugar ripeness and with higher levels of acid.
- Sauvignon Blanc: Most of the Yarra’s Sauvignon Blancs tend to have roundness and fruit generosity that sets them apart from wines associated with the South Island of New Zealand.
- Pinot Gris/Pinot Grigio: Two names suggest two styles and loosely speaking the variation of name is generalised to distinguish between a lighter, dryer and crisper style of white wine (Pinot Grigio) and a rounder, richer and more fruit rich style (Pinot Gris).
For the red wine lovers, Yarra Valley offers:
- Pinot Noir: Pinot Noir is the grape variety that produces the most sought after red wines from the Yarra Valley. Wines can be perfumed and aromatic, others more fruity, some are savoury and earthy, and others can be quite densely flavoured and structured.
- Cabernet Sauvignon: With few exceptions, Cabernet Sauvignon is most suited to the warmer sites of the Yarra Valley. The best examples of Yarra Cabernet have an aromatic character and an elegance that is rarely found in fuller bodied reds from warmer region of Australia.
- Shiraz / Syrah: Like Cabernet, warmer, lower altitude vineyards also seem more suited to this variety. Two names suggest two styles. Yarra “Syrah” is more medium bodied and can have an intensely savoury characteristic that is a little smoky. Other producers make a richer, more Shiraz like style that resembles a more elegant version of the sort of reds we expect from warmer regions.
Yarra Valley future
While it is Victoria’s oldest wine region with a history stretching back over 170 years, the Yarra Valley is still a relatively young wine region due to its rebirth in the 1960s and ‘70s.
This puts the region in a unique situation: it has a rich viticultural history but it has also had the chance to start afresh.
The region was revived by a bold and innovative group of winemakers, who set the standard for fine wine quality and imbued the region with a desire for perfection.
Thanks to these pioneers and the proceeding generations of innovative winemakers the Yarra Valley is today one of Australia’s, and the world’s, most exciting, dynamic and vibrant wine regions.