If your breath isn't taken away driving through the Yarra Valley then best check your pulse. This is the stuff of postcards and lifestyle programs. The black turtle-necked, beret wearing droves from Melbourne bundle relatives off in cars to gasp at the Yarra, while northerners come down to see how good life is in Victoria. Though varied from north to south, the common theme is verdant rolling hills and picture perfect little valleys with pristine vineyards colouring the landscape.
This is a cool climate region and heavily features the varieties found in the prestigious Burgundy wine-growing region of France. Here the heroes are Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, suited best to the crisp nights and chilled days found in this high country just north of Melbourne. Though these varieties represent the upper echelon of the wine production tier, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Semillon, Pinot Gris, Sauvignon Blanc and more recently Sangiovese and Nebbiolo have been added to premium listings. The cool climate means slow ripening, which in turn lends a finer, more elegant quality to the wines. While recent years have seen hardship from drought and heat, the region is remarkably consistent for producing wines of finesse and balance – this is reflected in its long history of sparkling wine making, an additional feather in the Yarra Valley cap.
The region was first established in the 1830s, but economic down turn and misadventure put vineyard and winemaking on the back burner until the industry was reinvigorated in the 1960s. The front-running is credited to Dr John Middleton, the original proprietor of the famed Mount Mary vineyard and winery, but subsequent plantings and investment in the 1980s came with big names like Domain Chandon with its French parent Moet & Chandon, James Halliday and his Coldstream Hills winery and subsequent players like Yering Station and their big scale yet premium production.
Pinot Noir is typically reserved, fine and elegant with pure dark cherry and black fruits and often takes on a slightly herbal, spicy note. Chardonnay is likewise fine-tuned, with snap to attention citrus acidity and lashings of white fruits like peach and pear. Cabernets and blends find an elegance, reserved power and core of violets, herbs and licorice. Newer producers have begun to seriously identify sub-regional differences within the Yarra Valley, opening a new chapter for individual wine styles and personality driven wines in the wine-growing region.