The Yarra Valley is my most favourite of Victoria’s wine regions. Famed for its subtle Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Sparkling Wine, it’s less than an hour’s drive from Melbourne, has a hint of Tuscany to it, and the cellar door experiences are always varied and reliable.
Yet, regardless of how much I heart the Yarra Valley, having vinophile girlfriends with me from Adelaide always makes me break out into a little bit of a sweat as they’re the toughest of wine critics (who drink Grange for breakfast).
This is exactly what happened when my South Australian wine sisters – Bel and Ali – descended on Melbourne recently insisting that they wanted to road trip to the Yarra Valley – I had to stock up on the Rexona and pull out the big guns when it came to winery selection.
Of course, I also had to stock up on a designated driver. This is where Jude earned his 2016 Husband of the Year nomination, offering to chauffer us around all day. Heck yes!
So the four of us piled into Betty – a.k.a. the Nissan JUKE I’m borrowing for the month from Nissan Australia – along with our box of snacks, plenty of water and a killer playlist connected through the JUKE’s Bluetooth sound system, and headed north-east along the EastLink bound for the Yarra Valley.
Winery #1: Domaine Chandon
Short of chartering a private jet to France, Domaine Chandon is the closest you’ll get to true French Champagne-making in Australia. Therefore, it has to play a starring role in any Yarra Valley wine itinerary.
In the same blood line as Moët & Chandon, younger sibling Domaine Chandon combines French heritage with Australian winemaking prowess to create some of the country’s most popular bubbles.
While number one priority, of course, is sampling the sparkling white and red wines at the tasting bar (a redeemable-upon-purchase tasting fee of $10pp applies), don’t leave without learning the ways of French wine wizardry in the Chandon heritage centre, and letting your jaw drop at the amazingly-manicured vineyards and gardens.
Domaine Chandon | 727 Maroondah Highway, Coldstream, Victoria
Phone: (03) 9738 9200
Winery #2: Oakridge Wines
Walking inside the modern, imposing, architecturally-designed building that houses Oakridge Wines, it’s difficult to find fault (even if you’re South Australian). The wines are some of the most acclaimed in the country, the service is warm and welcoming, and the views belong on a Victoria Secret catwalk. Wine tasting aside, there’s also outdoor games, a winery restaurant and provedore that has local peanut butter. Tick, tick, tick.
While Oakridge produces 40-something wines, only a rotating six are up for tasting any given day.
Bel: “What do you mean we can’t taste the Shiraz?”
But you’ll soon forget this lesson in restraint when you’re standing at the tasting counter, that’s backed by wall-to-wall glass, looking out across the valley. A scene I asked my Husband of the Year contender to capture – he only captured that I’m the world’s worst blogger, I couldn’t do a natural modely face if my life depended on it. That and I’m in serious need of botox.
On the other hand, Betty the Nissan JUKE took a much better shot….
Oakridge Wines | 864 Maroondah Highway, Coldstream, Victoria
Phone: (03) 9738 9900
Lunch at Meletos
When it comes to lunch options in the Yarra Valley, Meletos is as reliable as Pauline Hanson is at making you cringe. The food is ah-maze, with lots of Italian tapas options. As for this ball of gooey goat’s cheese, I have no words.
While you can’t book at Meletos for lunch (you can for dinner) and it’s as popular as Chadstone on a centre-wide sale day, you can put your name down and head next door (like right next door, Betty gets a snooze in the car park for now) to Napoleone Brewery and Ciderhouse. Here you can try a tasting paddle of cider (or craft beer), if you want to swap out grapes for apples for a while. Jude had a paddle of Diet Coke.
Winery #3: Innocent Bystander
Back on the road, me and my ladybugs (plus Jude) travelled 15 minutes to the town of Healesville, stopping in at our next winery: Innocent Bystander.
Innocent Bystander channels some serious industrial warehouse vibes, and while it has a very hectic cellar door area, it has an even more hectic restaurant area (called Giant Steps). The pizzas here look pretty damn good but lucky we just ate our weight in goat’s cheese, so we were quite focused on creeping out on the wine selection, while peering into the winery’s production facility, which looks like Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory. Although I don’t recall seeing any Oompa Loompas.
Jude (who by some miracle still had his patience intact at this point) broke into a full-teeth-grin when he saw a barista pouring take-away coffees.
Innocent Bystander | 334 Maroondah Highway, Healesville, Victoria
Phone: (03) 5962 6111
Winery #4: Soumah of Yarra Valley
With Bel and Ali’s wine standards at oxygen-losing heights, I wanted to end the day with my most favourite of the Yarra Valley’s cellar door children: Soumah.
Tucked well off the beaten track of Maroondah Highway, this Italian-inspired boutique winery and cellar door produces some of the most beautiful cool-climate wines in the area (according to me), and they’re incredibly exclusive to the cellar door – it’s harder to find Soumah’s duck egg blue wine label in the city than a free-standing house for under $1mil.
So enamoured, we all ended up leaving with a boxed up dozen, plus having become a Soumah member and another box arriving in a month’s time.
Soumah of Yarra Valley | 18 Hexham Road, Gruyere, Victoria
Phone: (03) 5962 4716
Piling back into the Nissan JUKE, with a boot-load of wine loot safely tucked away, it was time to call it a day. Despite its small SUV compactness, the Nissan JUKE was an incredibly comfortable ride to road trip in. So comfortable that on the way home the two children in the back fell asleep mouth wide-open style, secretly a little in love with the Yarra Valley.