Spin the Bot­tle

This month, we ex­plore the Yarra Val­ley re­gion – taste the wine, check out the cel­lar doors, sam­ple the food and bed down for the night.

Qantas - - Contents - STory by PETER BOURNE

What to drink and where to stay in Vic­to­ria’s Yarra Val­ley

The mighTy Yarra. Mel­bur­ni­ans pic­nic on the banks of it; univer­sity stu­dents drag them­selves out of bed in the dark to row on its waters. Trace the Yarra River’s course up­stream, through the north-east­ern sub­urbs to its up­per reaches, and you’ll find its heart­land – the bu­colic Yarra Val­ley wine re­gion, just an hour’s drive from Mel­bourne but worlds away from city life.

It’s hard to be­lieve that 40 years ago it was home to a mere hand­ful of wine grow­ers. To­day, Yer­ing, Yarra Glen, Cold­stream, Tar­rawarra, Healesville, Gruyere, Woori Yal­lock and Wes­burn are fa­mil­iar names to wine-lovers and there are more than 70 cel­lar doors, with many more vine­yards sell­ing grapes to lo­cal and na­tional pro­duc­ers.

It’s equally hard to fathom that 40 years ago Aus­tralian pinot noir and chardon­nay were in their in­fancy. They’ve rightly be­come syn­ony­mous with the re­gion, which dates its first vines back to 1838. Many of the early vi­gnerons were Swiss – there was Paul de Castella at Chateau Yer­ing, Charles Hu­bert de Castella at St Hu­berts and Frédéric Guil­laume de Pury at Yer­ing­berg (the lat­ter is still in the fam­ily’s hands). The Yarra thrived in the late 19th cen­tury – its wines won top awards in Europe – be­fore the phyl­lox­era pest, war and de­pres­sion saw it fade into ob­scu­rity.

The re­gion’s come­back oc­curred in 1963 when bar­ris­ter Reg Egan planted Wan­tirna Es­tate and a surge of doc­tors, lawyers, vi­nous cru­saders and big busi­nesses fol­lowed in his wake. The ar­rival of Moët & Chan­don in 1986 saw the scant chardon­nay and pinot noir grapes di­verted to sparkling wine and added to the “cool cli­mate” sig­na­ture of the re­gion.

Ge­o­graph­i­cal di­ver­sity has en­abled the Yarra Val­ley to adapt to our chang­ing cli­mate. For in­stance, up­per sites such as Woori Yal­lock and Toolangi, once con­sid­ered mar­ginal, are now per­fect for fine-boned chardon­nay and pinot noir. Sauvi­gnon blanc also does well, while spicy shi­razes and claret-like caber­nets reprise the wine style that won all those awards in the 1880s.

Food is a must with th­ese wines and most cel­lar doors of­fer a good-qual­ity café, wine bar or res­tau­rant. Don’t miss Healesville, where winer­ies such as Gi­ant Steps, In­no­cent By­s­tander and Mac Forbes rub shoul­ders with the mul­ti­fac­eted Healesville Ho­tel and Four Pil­lars gin dis­tillery. There is as much di­ver­sity in the Yarra Val­ley’s hos­pi­tal­ity as there is in its won­der­ful wines.

Bal­go­wnie Es­tate (above) spe­cialises in the re­gion’s most suc­cess­ful grapes: chardon­nay and pinot noir

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