Our first stop outside of the United States on our year-long road trip took us to Australia, where we spent a month traveling the country. You’ve probably already read about our trip along Australia’s Great Ocean Road, and now we want to take you to the Yarra Valley, one of the premier wine-growing regions in Australia.
Where Is the Yarra Valley?
The Yarra Valley lies in the state of Victoria in the southeastern part of Australia, along the upper regions of the Yarra River. It is less than an hour from Melbourne by car or taxi. It is also accessible by train or bus, as well as via any number of tour companies.
About the Yarra Valley
The Yarra Valley is an agricultural area, widely considered to be the birthplace of winemaking in Australia. Today, the Yarra Valley is the second largest wine producer in the country, hence our interest in visiting this lush area of Australia. (You might remember our foray into winemaking and my guide to Napa Valley. We are wine enthusiasts.)
The diverse climate and soil varieties make this a great region for grapes and other produce, much like the Napa Valley in California. You’ll find over 90 wine cellars and many more vineyards, from small family-owned and run wineries to the famed Domaine Chandon (owned by France’s Moet & Chandon). The Yarra Valley is also becoming well known for its beer and cider production, although both enterprises have a long history here.
Given the aforementioned production in the region, you’ll also find a number of well-regarded restaurants that take advantage of the local bounty.
The Valley has a seven-month wine-growing season, with harvest taking place from February to April. Given their location in the opposite hemisphere, this is similar to the traditional September through November harvests in California or in France.
The Yarra Valley produces predominantly Chardonnay and Pinot Noir (60%), with Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris and Pinot Grigio making up most of the balance. There are a few lesser-known varieties being grown as well, and the cooler climate also bodes well for fans of sparkling wines.
The Best Yarra Valley Wineries
With over 90 wineries throughout the Yarra Valley, it’s hard to choose which to visit. Trust me, we had a hard time deciding which one we should go to, like in Napa Valley, the only difference being that in Napa Valley there are over 400 wineries! Did you see my guide of the best Napa Valley wineries to visit for first time visitors.
But here are 6 Yarra Valley wineries that are definitely worthy of your time, and should you be able to spend more than a few days here, you’ll no doubt find even more gems available.
Note: In Australia, tasting rooms are called cellar doors.
DOMAINE CHANDON YARRA VALLEY:
Domaine Chandon in Australia’s Yarra Valley is part of France’s famed champagne house Moet & Chandon. That means there is history, skill and experience behind every bottle. So it’s not surprising that they were named Yarra Valley’s Star Winery in the 2018 Gourmet Traveller Best Cellar Door Awards.
For 30 years, they have made magic here using method traditionnelle to produce sparkling wines, including Blanc de Blanc, Pinot Meunier Rose, Meunier Cuvee, Brut Rose, Covee Riche, and a Sparkling Shiraz, among others. In the 1990s they also began producing limited quantities of still wines, which are a bit harder to come by. Visiting the winery is a good way to get a crack purchasing these.
We recommend that you take the self-guided tour and then head to the Tasting Room for their Sparkling Selection tasting (4 tastes plus a full flute of your fave). If you have time, try and book their Chandon Sunday School to get the in-depth tour and history.
TarraWarra Estate is a full-service winery, providing beautiful grounds to wander, the opportunity to taste some remarkable wine, and a restaurant with a menu that utilizes fresh produce from their own garden, as well as local farmers.
This winery began 40 years ago and is dedicated to provenance and sustainability.
Their main products are Chardonnays and Pinot Noir, although they also have some excellent estate blends. You can taste these at their cellar door, which is built into a hillside and open Tuesday through Sunday. There are no tours, but you can wander part of the estate, and if you have the time, stop in for a bite to eat, or if you’re not starved, hang out on the Summer Deck for appetizers and light plates.
Yering Station Winery is home to the first vineyard in Victoria’s Yarra Valley back in the 1800s. This family owned and operated winery not only produces their own wine—Chardonnay, Shiraz, and Pinot Noir chief among them—but they have a joint venture with French champagne maker Veuve A. Devaux to produce sparkling wine.
Open 7 days a week for tastings, their cellar door and wine store is in the original winery, dating back to 1859. We suggest that you take a walk around their beautiful garden and visit the art gallery before making your way to the cellar door. You won’t be sorry.
Yering Station is also home to the wonderful Wine Bar restaurant. See more about this in the Restaurant section below.
While this is one of the newer wineries in the Yarra Valley (2000), the history behind the winemakers is anything but new. Dominique Portent is a ninth-generation winemaker from Bordeaux, who transplanted to Australia and is blazing a path for his delicious wines, along with his son.
The winery is known for its Rosés, but also produces Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Shiraz. You can get a tasting in their cellar door, which is open daily, and even take advantage of a light lunch if you so desire.
Coombe Farm winery is located on the property once owned by Australia’s most famous opera diva, Dame Nellie Melba. Her ancestral home, Coombe Cottage still resides on the property and is still the family’s private residence. Nearby is 120 acres of grapes owned by her descendants, much of which is used for the Coombe Farm brand.
Like many of the other Yarra Valley wineries, Coombe Farm produces Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs, but also is known for the Pinot Gris, Merlot, Cabernet Merlot, and Shiraz. Their cellar door is open for tastings Tuesday through Sunday, and they also offer light fare and petite degustation pairings.
OAKRIDGE CELLAR DOOR:
The Oakridge Cellar Door is a family-owned winery, now 40 years old, was originally established alongside a ridge of oak trees, giving it its name. Its wine is consistently recognized by leaders of the industry and has won a number of awards.
Grapes come from four wine ranges, allowing for different altitudes and terroirs, all within the Yarra Valley. There wines are pretty evenly divided between whites and reds, with a rose often available. Here you’ll find an abundance of Chardonnays, along with Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir, and Shiraz, among others. Their cellar door is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily, and they have a highly regarded restaurant as well, which is described in the Restaurant section below.
Yarra Valley Accommodations
Like any high-end grape-growing region of the world (such as Napa Valley, Bordeaux, Tuscany), you’ll find some first-class accommodations in the Yarra Valley. We chose to stay at the bucolic Balgownie Estate Vineyard Resort and Spa in Yarra Glen, surrounded by rolling hills and vineyards.
THE BALGOWNIE ESTATE
The Balgownie Estate sits in the center of the Yarra Valley and is one of the most respected boutique hotels in the area. In addition to the hotel, there is an onsite restaurant, day spa, and winery. The grounds are beautiful, with floral gardens, stands of trees, and acres of vineyards. There’s a giant chess set, tennis court and even a Segway activity trail.
There are only 70 guest rooms, but each one is plush and comfortable, from their standard and garden terrace rooms to their spa suites and two-bedroom apartments. All the rooms have a view of either the garden or the valley.
You can eat at the award-winning Rae’s Restaurant, go wine tasting at the cellar door, or take advantage of the services at the Natskin Spa Retreat. You won’t be disappointed by any of it!
Other Luxury Accommodations in the Yarra Valley
CHATEAU YERING HOTEL
This hotel harkens back to the day of bygone luxury, with its huge Victorian mansion set on 250 acres. Originally a homestead, it was transformed into a 5-star luxury resort a mere 20 years ago. The Chateau is more like a manor out of the English countryside than a French chateau, but you’ll find grand ballrooms, antiques in every guest and common room, as well as beautiful artwork throughout.
There are only 32 rooms at Chateau Yering, which consists of mountain-facing suites, garden suites, valley suites, and two specialties: the four-poster stable suites—which are located in the original (renovated) stables—and the Yering Suite—which is accessed by a private staircase to the upper floor. The hotel has its own restaurant, Eleonore’s, set in a conservatory, plus a café that overlooks the gardens.
YARRA VALLEY LODGE
The Yarra Valley Lodge is the largest and the newest of the accommodations noted here, with 102 guest rooms. Rooms are decorated with a modern twist, are full of light, and all have balconies that overlook either the rolling hills or the Yarra Valley.
Guests at Yarra Valley Lodge can indulge in a massage at the day spa, have a meal at Bella, the onsite restaurant, partake of High Tea on Sundays, play a little tennis, and have access to the nearby Heritage Golf & Country Club if they want to play 18 holes.
YARRA GORGE COTTAGES BY THE EASTERN GOLF CLUB
This boutique establishment has consistently been awarded Tripadvisor’s Certificate of Excellence. Rather than a hotel, here you can stay in freestanding cottages. There are 8 one-bedroom cottages, 2 two-bedroom cottages, two-bedroom adjoining cottages (what we would call a duplex in the States), and a four-bedroom super deluxe cottage. Each has a private deck, fireplace, and kitchenette.
The cottages sit on a 120-acre private Nature Reserve, where guests can hike and see local wildlife (kangaroos, wombats, 200 species of birds, and more). There is also a fitness center with personal trainers and group classes, and tennis courts.
Top Yarra Valley Restaurants
Traveling around to all those wineries can make a person hungry. We had the opportunity to eat at two Yarra Valley restaurants during our sojourn. We had lunch at Coombe Farm, after visiting the cellar door, and dinner at Rae’s Restaurant, the in-house dining establishment at Balgownie Estate.
The restaurant at Coombe Farm is set in the old motor house and clock tower and serves morning (Devonshire) tea, lunch, and High Tea. The chef endeavors to utilize local produce and the dishes are very international. You can get salumi plates, cheese boards, and main dishes like Slow-Cooked Beef Cheek, Paris Gnocchi, Duck Terrine, and in a nod to its English influence, Eton Mess for dessert.
Rae’s Restaurant is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Because it sits on the Balgownie Estate, views from almost any table are beyond gorgeous. (During the warmer months, opt to sit outside on the terrace and sip some of their wine while overlooking the vineyards.)
You can opt for a two- or three- course meal, with 6-7 selections for each course. While the menu rotates with the season, while we were there the starters included soup, charcuterie, a tasting board, calamari, pork belly, carpaccio and beetroot fritters. Main dishes included a fish option, rib eye steak, lamb, duck, risotto and pasta. Desserts ranged from the typical (panna cotta, chocolate mousse cake, chocolate gateau) to the more unusual (pineapple/poppy seed steamed pudding, coconut sago). There was also a dessert assiette for two, which rotates daily. The wine menu, as you might imagine, features many of the local wines.
Other Top Yarra Valley Restaurants
If you need a few more recommendations for your trip, you might try one or more of the following Yarra Valley restaurants:
Innocent Bystander: This winery has both a cellar door for tastings and a restaurant and bar. Their menu utilizes fresh local ingredients and features small bits, pizza, share boards, paella and some fun desserts.
Ezard at Levantine Hill: Here you will find a winery, a cellar, a restaurant, and a B&B as well. Talk about full service! The restaurant is a gourmet experience with views to match. While they have all-day dining with shared plates, it’s the Signature Restaurant you want. They offer five- and eight-course tasting menus paired with their wine that will make you swoon!
Oakridge Wines: Are you sensing a theme here? Yep, this restaurant is also located at a winery and cellar door. The chef not only takes advantage of locally sourced produce, but he goes foraging and fishing for the freshest ingredients he can put on the table. True farm to fork dining in the Yarra Valley. It’s here you can taste kangaroo, fresh local trout, and some delicious vegetarian fare like the eucalyptus smoked pumpkin with sprouted barley and bunya.
Wine Bar Restaurant at Yering Station: This restaurant is in the Yarra Valley’s oldest winery (see above), and features French food with a modern twist. You can indulge in duck terrine, poached hapuka or wagyu flank—while overlooking the grounds and vineyards—and sip on some wine made right outside the restaurant’s doors.
Meletos: This out of the way regional café is adjacent to a 23-room boutique guesthouse. House in a renovated farm building, it is contained with stone walled gardens that also contain raised vegetable beds, where the chefs pluck herbs and produce on a daily basis. They serve both lunch and dinner, featuring small plates, salumi, wood-fired pizza, and main dishes like gnocchi, spatchcock chicken, pork belly and lamb. What’s nice about this restaurant is that it is NOT adjacent to a winery. It is actually on the same plot as a microbrewery. So take advantage and check out Napoleone Brewers handcrafted ales while you’re here.
Note: One unusual thing we found while traveling through the Yarra Valley—and Australia in general—is that on public holidays there is often a surcharge. We saw anything from $10/person to 10%-15%. Not something you see in the States, so be aware.
Other Places to Visit in the Yarra Valley
The Yarra Valley isn’t just a destination for wine. There are lots of hidden gems dotted through the valley that are worthy of your time. Here are just a few:
YARRA VALLEY DAIRY FARM:
This cheese factory and buttery was established over a hundred years ago as a resource for local farmers. Today it still uses milk from the local farms and turns it into some of the most magnificent cheeses that you’ll find in the region. Their farm store carries a huge selection of cheeses made on premise, along with locally made jams, pickles, mustards and an assortment of other tasty goods.
YARRA VALLEY CHOCOLATERIE:
Oh, did we mention this was an ice creamery too!?! Get your sweet on at this showroom and café in the Yarra Valley. On the 40-acre site with orchards and gardens, sits a production area that turns out over 250 handcrafted tasty treats. The showroom offers free chocolate tastings and plenty of items to take home to friends. Enjoy some lunch and then indulge in an ice cream, then work it off walking around the beautiful gardens.
Better known as a zoo in the States, the Healesville Sanctuary is a bushland haven for the indigenous wildlife of Australia. The sanctuary is helping to preserve native wildlife and fight extinction. They offer a full day of talks and educational events, as well as special wildlife meetups. You can get up close and personal with a kangaroo, echidna or dingo, pat and play with a wombat, or wade with a platypus (all for a fee).
TERRA WARRA MUSEUM OF ART:
This public museum is a labor love established with the private collection of Eva and Marc Besen. It predominantly features the artwork of Australia. There is a permanent collection of art from the 1930s forward, as well as rotating collections, one of which is currently a large outdoor installation. It’s a gorgeous modern steel and glass building that is an art piece unto itself. Definitely worth the time to visit and get a sense of Australia’s art world.
The Great Yarra Valley
I hope this guide has helped you plan your weekend getaway to the Yarra Valley! This region has so much to offer and it’s only a short drive from the major city of Melbourne!
If there are any great Yarra Valley locations that I missed make sure to leave them in a comment bellow so I can add them to this post for others to enjoy.