I’m all for an experiential birthday present. And given most of my favourite experiences involve food and wine, the husband proved he knows his vinophile wife well by gifting me a personally-chauffeured wine tour of the Yarra Valley for my most recent of birthdays.
These are the wineries I chose to visit:
After a brief picnic in the Maroondah Reservoir Park (in which Jude had raided the fridge and cupboard, packing a shopping bag of things he’d had no involvement in buying, but totally claimed credit for conjuring together), we started our wine tour at the Tuscan villa-like Boat O’Craigo, where I fully expected George Clooney to jump out from behind the Gewurztraminer vines.
Once you’ve finished tasting the wines from this boutique winery, feel free to sit out on the sunny deck, looking out across the valley, with a pizza or cheese board. We probably would have been coaxed into doing this if Jude hadn’t brought the South Cape from home.
Boat O’Craigo | 458 Maroondah Highway, Healesville, Victoria
Phone: (03) 5962 6899
Levantine Hill didn’t actually make an appearance on my original itinerary, but Jude cocked up and turned left instead of right when I was trying to direct him to Rochford Wines. However, given we were parked and I’d really chosen the wineries we were spending the day visiting by eeny, meeny, miny, moeing, I thought why not.
When the car park is full of Jags, Porsches and Batmobiles, you know that you’re about to enter a wine venue that is ridiculously fancy – this is the feeling you get standing in Levantine Hill’s concreted car park. The personal butler’s greeting at the door only confirms the suspicions.
Here you pay a minimum of $10pp to sit at the bar for an up-market version of your average wine tasting, quite civilly selecting three wines you’d like to swish around your mouth, I mean palate. If three wines won’t cut it, you can try all 13, paired with a cheese board, for a $100pp tasting fee. Or go somewhere in the middle: $15pp for five wine tastings.
There’s also a fancy-looking restaurant on-site – ezard @ Levantine Hill – that does a five-course and eight-course wine-matched tasting option. I suspect you’d find on the heavily embossed 216gsm menu things like quail egg, lobster cooked in truffle butter and desserts enclosed in edible gold (although I completely made this up, so please don’t expect a lunch of lobster). To be fair, the wines were delicious and may as well have been infused with edible gold.
Levantine Hill | 882 Maroondah Highway, Coldstream, Victoria (entrance via Hill Road)
Phone: (03) 5962 1333
We then turned right and headed for our intended destination – the huge Rochford Wines complex, which is pretty hard to miss, to be honest, with it’s whale-sized cellar door, large terrace, outdoor wine garden and a restaurant that’s busier than Kings Way. Fortunately, you don’t need a Batmobile and an eight-figure bank balance to dine here.
The overall vibe at Rochford Wines is fun, and opening out onto a large grassy paddock, that’s the starting point for ballooning, helicopter and segwey tours of the Yarra Valley, I watched admirably as wine-denied parent after wine-denied parent grabbed a glass of bubbles and sent their kids off to play.
Rochford Wines | 878–880 Maroondah Highway, Coldstream, Victoria (entrance via Hill Road)
Phone: (03) 5957 3333
Soumah of Yarra Valley
We then stopped in at this beautiful Italian-inspired winery. Soumah of Yarra Valley, located in the cool climate Warramate foothills, may be a baby alongside your Domaine Chandons, Yering Stations and Coldstream Hills, but it packs a Pinot-filled punch.
There is something calming and country about this little winery hidden off the beaten track; from its friendly, welcoming and helpful staff to it’s well-sunned deck and adjoining restaurant – Trattoria D’Soumah – that serves up Northern Italian cuisine to match the Northern Italian, easy-drinking (and highly dangerous) wines.
I would happily drive the hour back to the Yarra Valley just to pick up another case of Soumah’s trophy-winning Savarro. And it would be rude not to have a plate of pasta while I’m here.
Soumah of Yarra Valley | 18 Hexham Road, Gruyere
Phone: (03) 5962 4716
With a bit of time to kill before our dinner reservation, we then sat outside on Yarrawood’s lawns with a glass of wine (well I had a glass of wine, the driver had a cappuccino to wake his arse up), looking out onto the disgustingly beautiful vineyard and Yarra Valley below. We were peacefully joined on the lawns by a group playing petanque and others desperately drinking up the day’s last hints of sun.
Yarrawood | 1275 Melba Highway, Yarra Glen, Victoria
Phone: (03) 9730 2003
Dinner at Meletos
On top of the all-day driving stint, I just wanted Jude to surprise me with somewhere he’d hand-picked for dinner. Then he could happily tick the birthday box done. Like the picnic, I don’t think he chose Meletos on his own (thanks must go to his colleague Anna!) but regardless I was impressed with his hand-picking.
Housed in a glass barn-type building, with lots of wooden tables and chairs, bowls of fruit, and fittingly a vineyard and courtyard out back, Meletos exudes rustic elegance.
And the foodie experience is just as impressive as the setting, serving up local, seasonal produce off a tapas-style European menu created by head chef Neil Cunningham. We ended the day on a high gluttonous note, sharing fresh oysters, saffron and prosciutto arancini, chargrilled octopus, a board of cured meats and a calabrese salami pizza.
By the time we got home at 9pm I had to put myself straight to bed, on my side, because I couldn’t breathe. Fair to say, I’d honoured my 28th birthday by well and truly overindulging in two of my favourite past times: wine and food.
Meletos | 12 St Huberts Road, Coldstream, Victoria
Phone: (03) 9739 1888
So which winery was my favourite?
Hand’s down, glasses down, it was Soumah, with its friendly, peaceful vibe and ultra-addictive wines.