Thursday, February 28, 2008

The Yarra Valley + Video

A beautiful valley surrounded by mountains, with small wineries and charming little towns. It is known for its pinot noirs and chardonnays. About a one hour drive from Melbourne, there are no direct highways – and you must spend time driving on the left side of some very windy and hilly roads. I managed to only go the wrong way twice and ran over 3 curbs; turned my windshield wipers on about 10 times, but otherwise the drive was fine. I arrived in the small town of Yarra Glen first and followed a sign that said wineries, but they were all closed on Monday. Apparently small family wineries are only open on weekends. Frustrated and tired, I decided to drive directly to Healesville – the heart of the Yarra Valley wine region and stopped in the Information Center to obtain a map. Smart move. I will now do this in every wine region, because the other maps I had purchased were not that detailed.

So even though I left the hotel at 1:15pm, I didn’t arrive at the first winery until 3:30. It was Rocheford and had some excellent high acid cool climate wines. The viogner was stunning – very crisp and aromatic. Not the usual heavy bodied honey bomb. The Riesling was like biting into a lime. Very tart and refreshing. The pinot noir was light and fruity, but their specialty was chardonnay. I tried the reserve and was impressed with the minerality and complexity. They were setting up for a Rod Stewart concert that weekend, so there was a large construction project going on in the back of the winery. Apparently this winery is known for concerts. Of course, I didn’t actually drink any wine – just tasted and spit. There was no way I was going to drink wine and drive on the left side of the road.

Next stop was the famous ColdStream Hills owned jointly by James Halliday and Fosters. The cellar door service was exceptional – very knowledgeable people working here. They treated me well and let me taste their very well made wines. The reserve chardonnay and pinot noir were my favorites – high acid; good fruit; some minerality, and layers of complex notes. They were able to explain step by step how the wines were made. Very helpful. Also tried the Merlot, Shiraz and Cab Sav.

The third winery was a small family run establishment that was recommended by the Info. Center when I asked to visit a small local winery. It was Tokar and included a Tuscan style house for the owner with the winery, cellar door and restaurant behind. Lovely view of the vineyards with a rose garden in full bloom. When I walked in, the place was deserted – it was 4:30 – and the man behind the tasting bar said he was the vineyard manager but that he could help me. Of course I was thrilled to get to talk with the viticulture expert so we had a nice converation about trellising, soil, clones, rootstock, farming practices, and bird netting. One of the first things you notice about the Yarra Valley during harvest is all of the bird netting on the vines. He said they didn’t believe in it and used the small silver flags instead. They made pinot, tempranillo, cab, and shiraz. I tried all 4 and thought I had been transported back to the Russian River. The pinot was huge, with lots of ripe raspberry fruit and heavy texture – plus the winemaker had been very liberal with spicy American oak. It was tasty, but not what I expected from the Yarra which is more known for lean, elegant pinots. I commented on it and the manager said they let their fruit hang as long as possible because that was the preferred style of the winemaker and owner. Anyway, we had a nice chat and then I headed on down the road to Domaine Chandon.

Domaine Chandon was closed because it was after 5pm, but I was still able to wander around their beautiful grounds. Definitely worth a stop to see the vineyards, garden, and tasting room with the huge glass windows. I then headed back to Melbourne and arrived at my hotel near the airport around 6:30. By that time I was hungry and craving a glass of pinot noir because I never got to drink any wine at the wineries. The lamb they served was excellent, but I was very disappointed to find that the only pinot on the menu was from Marlborough. Good, but not what I came to Victoria to taste. There should be some kind of policy in wine tourism countries that local wine should appear on restaurant menus. No trouble falling asleep that night.

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