This short trip from Melbourne will lead you a world away, among pastoral surrounds and rolling vineyards, home to some of the country’s finest cool-climate wines.
For oenophiles and gourmands seeking to be charmed by bucolic outlooks and a temperate area-round climate, yet without the long car journeys, then the Yarra Valley is your place. All it takes is a 10-minute drive from Melbourne’s outer suburbs to find yourself among rolling farmland scenery and vines reminiscent of northern Italy, but mixed in with kangaroos and an unmistakable Aussie bush landscape.
Dating back to the 1830s, the Yarra Valley is one of Australia’s oldest wine-growing regions. Over the journey it has evolved into an unstoppable epicurean force, producing not only some of the country’s finest cool-climate wines, but sublime cellar-door restaurants that capitalise on the region’s fresh bounty of produce.
The region is best known for its buttery chardonnays and fragrant pinot noir, but talented winemakers are also getting fantastic results in producing traditional sparkling whites, along with cabernet Sauvignon, pinot gris and some interesting varietals. Most wineries have scenic cellar doors that are open throughout the week for tastings; either free, or a $5 charge, which is redeemable against any bottle purchases. Visit wineyarravalley.com.au for the full list of 80 or so wineries in the region.
From fine dining to gastropubs and award-winning cheese from rustic farm doors, the Yarra Valley is also famed as a culinary destination. Its fertile soils yield quality seasonal produce, used by talented locavore chefs to create gastronomic dishes featured on degustation menus for foodies looking to splurge. Even at your everyday country pubs and cafes you’ll be treated to gourmet local fare, from succulent steaks to authentic woodfired pizzas, along with Yarra Valley wines, artisanal gins, craft beers and ciders.
Must-visit restaurants and wineries in the Yarra Valley
A must not only for those into their pinot noir and chardonnays, but also for culture vultures with an interest in history, this garden estate was the former home of Dame Nellie Melba (1871–1931), Australia’s famed opera singer. Here you can settle in for a glass of wine to enjoy with a cheese board and game of croquet on the lawn, or come by for its popular Devonshire tea served inside the elegant house. There’s also a restaurant dishing up a menu of modern Australian meets British- inspired cuisine with an assortment of roast meats and veggies picked from its kitchen garden. Leave time to tour the pristine gardens, dating back to 1909 and designed by William Guilfoyle who also created Melbourne’s Botanical Gardens.
9.30am-5pm Tue-Thu & Sun, to 3pm Fri & Sat
Established way back in 1838, Yering Station is Victoria’s first winery and one of the earliest in Australia. Drop by its historic cellar door – which also houses a contemporary art gallery – for tastings of its estate- grown wines and those sourced from across the Yarra Valley. Make a reservation for lunch at its fine-dining restaurant, within a stunning contemporary glassed-in space overlooking vineyards, for a tasting menu of gastronomic modern Australian using ingredients sourced from local growers. Within the adjoining 1854 Chateau Yering mansion, Eleanore’s Restaurant is another upmarket option with which to treat yourself.
10am- 5pm Mon-Fri, to 6pm Sat & Sun
Napoleone Brewery & Ciderhouse
Offering an alternative to the saccharine ‘cider’ you mostly find on the Australian market, this boutique third-generation family-owned cidermaker has been producing apple and pear varietals since the 1940s. All its fruit is estate grown and its top quality has won various awards, particularly for its sparkling pear méthode traditionnelle. They do a decent beer too, including a great pale ale, paired beautifully with woodfired pizzas and their Punt Road wines to indulge in at the contemporary restaurant with glass-atrium design.
11am-5pm Mon-Fri, from 10am Sat & Sun
One of the big players in the Yarra Valley is this subsidiary of French champagne maker Moët, who for over 30 years have been producing its quality sparkling whites. Its slick, multifaceted complex comprises cellar door, restaurant and a terrace looking out to magnificent vineyard vistas. Take a self-guided tour to get the low down on its méthode traditionnelle production process, before doing a tasting, and then moving on to the contemporary French cuisine restaurant. If you’re around on a Sunday, enquire about their winemaking classes, too.
Another of the Yarra Valley’s finest, Oakridge’s cellar door dazzles with its panoramic vineyard views – exactly what you’d hope for when tasting some of the region’s best chardonnay and pinot noirs. Its restaurant is also highly regarded, with chefs Matt Stone and Jo Barrett nailing a truly modern Australian menu featuring the likes of crocodile, kangaroo, desert lime, kelp, macadamia and saltbush. Or just drop by for cheese and charcuterie plates with a glass of wine.
Levantine Hill Estate
Bringing his high-end urban dining concept to the country, here top chef Teage Ezard has teamed up with Levantine Hill to design a menu sourced from seasonal, local produce to create one of the Yarra Valley’s best restaurants. The setting is stunning floor-to-ceiling windows offering sublime vineyard views combined with industrial chic decor, including wine-barrel inspired booth seating to sink into and gorge on the cutting edge seven- course degustation chef’s menu. Otherwise, opt for the more relaxed bistro offering an a la carte menu. If you’re not here for food, it’s still worth visiting for wine tastings accompanied by those views.
Four Pillars Gin
One of the leaders in Australia’s craft gin scene, this international award–winning distiller brings in visitors by the busloads. Set in the town of Healesville, a short drive north of the Yarra Valley wineries, Four Pillars boasts an impressive space combining bar and cellar door, alongside the production area that you can peek in at through the giant portholes. Tastings of gin flights are led by knowledgeable staff, and can be backed up with ordering a G&T. Nab a keepsake for back home with a range featuring the likes of Spiced Negroni, Bloody Shiraz, Chardonnay Barrel gin and Navy Strength, along with interesting seasonal releases.
10.30am-5.30pm Sun-Wed, to 5pm Thu, to 9pm Fri & Sat
No self-respecting foodie visits the Yarra Valley without popping in for a meal at the historic Healesville Hotel. Choose between a formal dining room of polished dark woods, or the cosy front bar with fireplace, to order the likes of wood-fired grilled chicken cooked on red gum, or house cheeseburger and sirloin steaks made using local ingredients. A quality drinks list tempts with the region’s finest. The weekend garden wood-fire barbecue lunch, featuring American style slow-cooked meats.
Noon- late Wed-Sun
Where to stay in the Yarra Valley
In keeping with its refined restaurant ambience, here at Healesville Hotel they offer a boutique version of your average upstairs pub rooms, spruced up with luxurious king-sized beds, crisp linen and designer touches. If you’re seeking something more self-contained, they have the attached Furmstone House for added space and privacy.
Things to do in the Yarra Valley
Tarrawarra Museum of Art
One of Victoria’s best galleries for modern art is this privately owned museum that shares space with the upmarket TarraWarra winery and restaurant. Exhibitions feature big name Australian and international artists from the mid-20th century to current day.
Featuring many of Australia’s native wildlife under the one roof, animal lovers won’t want to miss this well-regarded zoo. Its enclosures are home to wombats, koalas, kangaroos, wallabies and dingoes, along with endangered species such as platypus, Tasmanian devils and the orange-bellied parrot. Check the website for the daily schedule of informative demonstrations that are led by the park keepers.
Shedfest Wine Festival
In a scene dominated by the larger, multimillion dollar wineries, this is a weekend every October that is all about the small guys – namely family-run wineries without cellar doors that open to the public once a year.
This is an excerpt from the new book ‘Gourmet Trails Australia and New Zealand’ by Lonely Planet Food (RRP $39.99). If you’re looking for the perfect foodie getaway post lockdown, Lonely Planet ‘s Gourmet Trails celebrates 29 perfect culinary trails and weekends away. Meet the producers and celebrate the ingenuity and passion of some of Australia’s best food and wine regions. Grab your copy at lonelyplanet.com.