The Yarra Valley is one of Victoria’s most famous regions. Why? It has lovely landscapes, award-winning wine and elegant eateries. However, most people seem to go to the same, popular vineyards each time and overlook some of the best places the valley has to offer. Many of these businesses are run by families and passed down through generations. From paddock to plate (or vine to glass) these dedicated artisans will tell you everything you need to know about what you’re enjoying. And that’s where the real magic of the Yarra Valley lies. Enjoy! (And always remember to drink responsibly).
1. Helen & Joey Estate, Gruyere
One word: views. When you’re driving to this winery, you’re probably going to be wondering where the hell it is. You’ll see an unassuming green barn at the top of the hill and be greeted by a friendly white unicorn. Inside is light, modern and casual with a lot of personality. You can sit by the windows and look over the sprawling vines and black angus cows grazing on the luscious, green grass. The staff are lovely here and always keen for a chat. Pick up a strong black coffee and a locally made tart whilst you’re at it.
I know that the vision mustered up by fortified wines is probably of your grandma’s gross sherry but Helen & Joey have managed to make it cool again. The Late Harvest range is sweet, fruity and fun. (Even the packaging is cute!). It’s perfect for chilling with your girlfriends (or boyfriends, I don’t judge), having a long lunch in the sun and sipping slowly.
I bought: 2 bottles of Late Harvest 2015 Chardonnay, and Merlot $50
2. Yarra Valley Dairy, Yering
So now you’re ready for a quick snack. The Yarra Valley Dairy has got you covered. This place has some cool and creative cheeses, from fiery Persian feta, to ash dusted goat’s cheese, and a semi-hard cheese curiously named ‘bullseye’. The story behind bullseye, as told me to by the shop owner’s stepson, Issac, is that the first time the owner made this cheese, it was absolutely terrible. He was so upset, he went out the back and shot it with a shotgun. “He nailed it, so he called the cheese bullseye,” Issac told me. Nine years later, he promises the recipe has been perfected and the cheese is much better. Oh, and just to let you know, it’s all made from cow’s milk from the Yarra Valley and goat’s milk from Gippsland.
Isaac offered me a taste of his favourite cheese, ‘Yering’. It’s a camembert, brie style cheese that’s matured for three weeks. It’s unbelievably creamy and goes perfectly with crusty bread and pear cider. Yarra Valley Dairy also has a cafe with a small but thoughtful menu, wine tastings and local produce.
I bought: Yering Camembert style 110g $14 and Badger Creek Blueberry Farm Blueberry Style Moscato $10
3. Soumah of Yarra Valley, Gruyere
Soumah is truly a love story. Owner, Brett Butcher used to be the CEO of the Langham Hospitality Group and often travelled to Italy for business. He fell in love with the culture and dreamt of owning his own winery. You can see the passion for Italian culture has gone into every aspect of this project. Get ready to sip on wines you can’t pronounce, and why not wash it down with authentic Italian cuisine such as ‘quaglia con salsiccia’ (grilled quail, spiced fennel sausage and spinach). I’ve heard the pronunciation gets better the more you drink.
When I asked Assistant Cellar Door Manager, Ryan, which wine was his favourite, he told me it was impossible to say, like choosing a favourite child. And he’s not wrong- Soumah has some fantastic, light and fresh wines that are easily paired with foods. However, the one that stood out to me most was the Tuto Bianco d’Soumah. “It means ‘all white’ or ‘everything white’ in Italian. And it is actually a blend of all the white grapes that we grow,” Ryan explained. “It’s just this fruitful and nice, easy drinking style. I think I personally get the chardonnay the most.”
I bought: Tuto Bianco d’Soumah Vintage 2016 $25
4. Napoleone Brewery & Ciderhouse, Coldstream
If you’re after something different (or a little sick of all this wine), Napoleone Brewery is the place for you. They serve up German-style beer and cider, and wine is strictly off the menu. The cellar door has a young, care-free vibe and behind the bar, you can literally watch the brew bubbling away. “We don’t add any crap to it. It’s very natural, it’s living beer. We don’t pasteurise it either,” André Napoleone, whose father and uncle own the brewery. There are paddle tastings, brewery tours or you can just pop in for a pint and a friendly chat.
The coolest thing about this place is the fact that they have used being a small brewery to their advantage. Whenever the beer and cider makers have an idea (no matter how crazy it might be) they’ll make up a small batch and see how it goes. This has lead to some interesting concoctions, you’ll just have to try for yourself. I love the cider because it’s not that sickly sweet, sugar water you get served at some bars and restaurants. Instead, the beautiful pear and apple flavours shine through and speak for themselves. Better yet, it has been a family-owned business since 1948.
I bought: Napoleone Cider Methode Traditionelle Pear $10 (on sale)
5. Meletos, Coldstream
When visiting this cafe, the experience really starts when you drive up the pale gravel road, lined with apple trees. The interior is chic with high, gabled ceilings and panoramic views and the staff make you feel right at home. I ordered a roast pumpkin pizza with gorgonzola, rosemary, hazelnuts and rocket. The base was the perfect texture, light and fluffy. There’s a huge range of wines to choose from but I grabbed a Napoleone cloudy apple cider. After all, it’s made right next door. The cheese at the restaurant is supplied by Yarra Valley Dairy and you can see the vegetables sprouting up in a veggie patch next to the building. Doesn’t get much more local than that!
Just a warning, I came to Meletos on a Thursday and was seated straight away but I have heard the average wait time on weekends is about 45 minutes. Luckily there is loads to see (and drink!) in the area while you’re waiting.
I bought: Pizza $25, french fries with paprika and manchego $10, pot of cider $6