When you’re done with marvellous Melbourne, or just want to break up your stay, head an hour east of town for a perfect day of nature and adventure, art and culture, markets, spas, eateries and wineries, in Victoria’s famously delicious Yarra Valley.
If you’re expecting one of Australia’s premier wine-growing regions to be all about wineries though, you’ll be gladly mistaken. Sure, the Yarra Valley counts more than 150 wineries in its prestigious fold, and they are the biggest draw, but even if the wine was the last thing you cared about, you’d hardly be short on things to do here. But first, what most come for: the world-class wine!
The Wines of Yarra Valley
Dating back to 1838, Yarra Valley was Victoria’s first planted wine region, producing two varietals. For a range of reasons, the area was entirely converted to dairy farming in the mid-1930s, until vines were re-established in the 1960s. In 1986, French Champagne house Moet & Chandon opened a local base at Domaine Chandon producing exquisite sparkling wine, further elevating Yarra Valley’s global reputation.
Today, approximately 300 vineyards grow some of the world’s best Pinot Noir, Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay, drawing over 3 million visitors annually.
The area is divided into two sub-regions, the Valley floor and Upper Yarra, both with distinct characteristics like altitude, soil, climate and rainfall levels that determine what is grown. As far as wine growing goes, the entire valley is considered a ‘cool climate’ region, even though summer temperatures average almost 27C, and winter lows rarely dip into the single digits (averaging just over 14C).
The Valley floor, including the towns of Healesville, Lilydale and Yarra Glen, is generally warmer, sheltered from the sometimes biting fall and winter winds a little higher up. The cooler Upper Yarra holds the region’s most esteemed real estate, producing its most prized varietals, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.
When deciding on a wine tour, consider visiting vineyards in both sub-regions to taste the difference. For fans of Australian Chardonnays (and even if you’re not), check out renowned Oakridge Wines, which in 2012 won three prestigious awards, including ‘Winery of the Year’, ‘Chardonnay of the Year’, and ‘Wine of the Year’.
Who wants a beer? A cider? Kombucha?
If wine isn’t your thing or you’d like to mix things up a bit, Yarra Valley also has some notable microbreweries and cider mills producing beautiful beers and flavourful ciders. Beer making here goes as far back as winemaking, traced to the early 1800s when hops were farmed throughout. Cider, too, is a staple in the Yarra region – the birthplace of Australian Champagne Cider.
Tour the Cider & Ale Trail to sample dozens of beer styles (mostly lager and ale varieties) as well as special one-off seasonal brews, alongside historic cider houses serving up fresh sweet and dry ciders. Other local delicacies include strawberry and blueberry wines, sweet ports, refreshing sparkling wines, Calvados (apple brandy), craft gin, and even kombucha!
Breweries worthy of a stop include Coldstream Brewery, Watts River Brewing, Hargreaves Hill Brewing Co., and Buckley’s Beer (Yarra Valley’s oldest).
Yarra Valley Wine Tours
Here is where things get fun. Yarra Valley wineries present options; some practical, some outlandish.
The most common are small-group escorted tours in a mini-van, but companies can also set you up with a professional designated driver and guide, using their car or yours. Renting a bike locally and doing it all yourself is also a popular choice, as are organized cycling tours.
Looking to keep it social? Hop on Cafe Bus, a customized 18-seat bus that doubles as a coffee house, serving up tasty free java between wine sampling and cider stops. Celebrating something special? Book a private tour in an extravagant chauffeured stretch limousine, or a vintage convertible Chevy (Top Down Tours). Apart from the dangerous-sounding Segway tours of Rochford Winery, you can’t go wrong with any of the aforementioned options.
Full day tours, including central Melbourne pick-up and drop-off, start between $150-$165AUD, per person, and usually cover visits to 4-6 wineries ranging in styles, generous tasting sessions at each, and a gourmet lunch with more drinks. Expert guides explain the region’s history, wines and answer any questions you may have along the way.
Yarra Valley for the Whole Family
In the bountiful Yarra Valley, wine, beer and cider tours are just the beginning. And if you’re wondering about the practicality of bringing the kids, don’t give it a second thought – pack them up!
Earlybirds can watch the valley wake with a breathtaking hot air balloon ride at sunrise. Mid-mornings can be spent on tasting the area’s apple and pear orchards, fishing trout and salmon ponds, or hiking the numerous scenic trails on eco-tours of Yarra Ranges. There are pony rides and horseback riding, and the fun Healesville Sanctuary, where visitors come face-to-face with kangaroos, koalas, wombats, emus, dingoes, and more.
Other popular activities include golf, archery and skydiving. You’ll find sumptuous spa resorts focusing on well being, with yoga easily available, and outstanding places to eat throughout. Visit the charming Yarra Valley villages of Warburton, Yarra Glen and Healesville and shop their cozy boutiques.
As you can see, not only is the Yarra Valley satisfying everyone from the casual wine enthusiast to full-blown aficionados, it provides a well-rounded experience for anyone into the great outdoors, all just an hour from Melbourne.
You’re closer than ever to the spoils of Yarra Valley with Air Canada’s new non-stop service from Vancouver to Melbourne. Get there now with great pricing and our hotel inclusive packages, on sale now. To book, call or visit your nearest Flight Centre store today!