A Tour Through Australian Wine Regions - Yarra Valley

It's hard to believe it's already been six months since my wife and I toured through Australia. I've just completed going through all the photos from the trip, and it's safe to say we had the adventure of a lifetime. A month in Australia is good for the soul, and I'd highly recommend it to anyone. If you can get there, the exchange rate is very favorable right now. We tackled just about every wine region we could think of during our trip.  We tasted our way through Yarra Valley, Coonawarra, Adelaide Hils, Clare Valley, McLaren Vale and Barossa. Along the way, we met a cast of Aussie characters and tasted more good wines than we were expecting.  Shiraz was one of the grapes we tasted the least because so many other grape varieties grow well in Australia.   In part one of a series of blog posts, I'll share some stories from the Yarra.The following are the stories of our experiences, however, I can't guarantee the accuracy because some details are foggy. After all, we were drinking good wine!

First stop, Yarra Valley: Located about 45 minutes our of Melbourne, our drive to the Yarra Valley was more like driving to a Melbourne suburb than to a world-class wine region. We were driving (badly I might add on the wrong side of the road) through neighborhoods and stop lights, then all of the sudden we came out in beautiful countryside. The Yarra is probably not one of the wine regions you think of when you think Australian wine. Their largest producer is Yerring Station, and was our first stop. My wife, Jaimie and I walked through the grounds to the tasting room, which resembled an old brick firehouse, only to find an American named John pouring wines. We learned a few important tidbits of information while talking to John. The first--I didn't know Australia made quality Pinot Noirs. They do, and they come from the Yarra Valley. Second, I didn't know Australia made quality sparkling Champage-style wines. They do, and they come from Mornington Peninusla, Tasmania and the Yarra. Domaine Chandon has a winery in the Yarra.  Yerring Station had a full lineup of quality wines, with our favorite being the Chardonnay. The Rosé was a close second. Pinot Noir and Chard grow well in the Yarra due to its cooler climate.

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After successfully tasting the Yerring lineup, we headed towards the central area where most of the wineries were centered. We decided to go off the beaten path and take a dirt road as a short cut. Turned out to be a smart choice. We were driving (again, poorly) along and noticed a weathered sign that read, "Dairy and Wine Tasting room open." Being the adventurous types, we pulled in to what looked like what the sign advertised.  It was a dairy that smelled like a dairy.  No sign of cars or humans.  Just dairy cows and flies.  We went into one of the out buildings that appeared to be the most likely candidate for a tasting room.  We entered one of the most charming and rustic little tasting room chock full of cheeses and local wines.  What a pleasant surprise! Another reason why it's good to go off the beaten path from time to time. With the exposed wood, it looked like the setting for a Martha Stewart photo shoot rather than a dairy.  I rarely use words like, "quaint" or "charming" but this place was both of those.

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dairy They were pouring wines from 3 local producers, producers who were too small to be sold outside the region, but were quality small batch wines. Can't remember what the wines were, but they were very well made. Janice, the tasting room manager gave us the insider information about where the best Pinot Noir's could be found. So we tasted through the wines, and headed out to our next destination. Thanks to Janice, we found out about Dominique Portet.

Domaine Portet had a Rosé of Pinot Noir called the Fontaine Rosé and it was fantastic.  We were there in the afternoon on a random Tuesday, which meant everywhere we went we were the only ones there.  Lots of great one on one conversations with the folks in the tasting rooms.  You learn things about the area you wouldn't normally find out on a busy weekend.  For example, Mike at Oakridge gave us the lowdown on a wonderful picnic spot overlooking the entire valley.  Oakridge, by the way, had a beautiful Fumé Blanc that had so much elegance and style.  Really, it was the kind of wine that reminds you why you drink wine in the first place.  That Fumé was creamy without being too tart or too sweet.  We grabbed a bottle of Fumé and headed up the dirt road Mike told us about to a dead end.  From there we hiked through old growth forest to the top of the highest peak overlooking the Yarra.  There we found an observation deck with breathtaking views that were only enhanced by the absolute peace and quiet up there.  It seemed like we were the only people for miles.  And since it was spring time in Australia, it was about 70 degrees and perfect.  Moments like that is what makes life worth living.

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Jaimie and I stayed up there until the sun started to go down talking about the rest of our days and what we wanted our life together to look like.  Moments like these are moments that remind you how simple life should be.  As we were heading back down through the old growth forest, we saw a black kangaroo shoot through the brush about ten feet away.  Sorry, in Australia they have the metric system.  That 'roo was about three meters away.  It was getting close to dinner time and the wineries were all closed, so we headed to one of the few restaurants in the Yarra called Giant Steps.  Luckily it was a quality over quantity thing because Giant Steps was a home run.  Giant Steps was so stylish that it almost seemed out of place.  It resembled more of a hipster lounge in San Francisco than a restaurant in a quiet wine region.

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We enjoyed a few single vineyard Pinot Noirs and noshed on a cheese plate along with some random appetizers.  Our server hooked it up with some great pairings to go with our Pinots.  As the night came to a close, we headed back to Melbourne through the suburbs.  Yarra Valley was a quiet place, but we experienced some cool things by going off the beaten path and would happily visit again.  My next post in this series will focus on Coonawarra.  Cheers!

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