The Yarra Valley is only an hour from Melbourne, making it the perfect day trip or weekend away. The region specialises in chardonnay and pinot noir grapes, which also happen to make perfect sparkling wine. But if you know where to look, you'll also find less common varietals, like nebbiolo, savagnin and chenin blanc.
There are 160 wineries to try in the region, from tiny mum-and-pop operations to giant foreign-owned behemoths. The Melba and Maroondah highways are the biggest wine arterial roads, you'll find plenty of cellar doors off the beaten path, if you know where to look.
These are our favourite wineries in the Yarra Valley right now, and they provide a good place to start.
Hop in your car, bring a bottle of water and make a day of it. You'll come home with bottles clanking in your boot, ready to be enjoyed at your next dinner party, barbecue or just night at home.
For more mini-break ideas, visit our guide to Victoria's best getaways. Alternatively, stay close to the city and discover Melbourne's best wine bars.
According toadvice from the Department of Health, Victorians are currently only allowed to travel for day trips only. From June 1, overnight stays will be allowed across regional Victoria, cultural venues will be permitted to reopen and restaurants and cafés can offer dine-in service. Some restrictions apply and physical distancing measures remain in place. Wineries can reopen so long as they offer food – you cannot attend to drink only. Check with individual venues for specific opening details.
There is a large cellar door and tasting room inside, but if the weather is good the best seats in the house are outside on the terrace, overlooking the vines and gently rolling hills. If the winery isn't slammed, you might get lucky enough to be able to work your way through the wines on tasting in this spot. If you'd like to nosh as you sip, you can also get snacks and charcuterie, and you can of course buy a bottle or two to enjoy in your primo location – plus a few to take home. Like many in the Yarra Valley, the winery prides itself on its chardonnay, pinot noir and sparkling varietals, and these come in a range of price points. For those who like things a bit funkier, Helen and Joey Estate offers its Wild Child range – boundary-pushing drops that defy categorisation. They are the result of experimentation and the winemaker's imagination, and they are bang on trend of funky, low-intervention, skin contact and interesting.
Mark and Fiona Horrigan, who run Pimpernel, take their winemaking seriously, and their drops reflect the characteristics of the grapes. They are also serious about terroir – so serious, in fact, that Mark's mother pocketed a couple of limestones from a pinot noir vineyard in Burgandy. When they returned to Australia, Mark had the stones analysed and subsequently buried more than 250 tonnes of similar crushed limestone in his own vineyard. The pinot noir grapes that grow above it produce some of the best pinot the Yarra Valley has to offer. Fruit is picked by hand, and little is done to it to interfere with the natural fermentation process.
Oakridge Wines is a family-owned winery in Yarra Valley that is gaining renown for its restaurant. The kitchen, which is headed by chef Matt Stone along with pastry chef Jo Barrett, produces dishes highlighting produce from the kitchen garden and local growers. Guests can enjoy a meal matched with a selection of wines exclusive to the Oakridge restaurant (which was our Restaurant of the Year in 2019), or simply take in the view of the stunning vineyard – tastings overlook a pretty gorgeous vista.
Tasting your way around the Yarra Valley is hungry work, and there will come a time in your day when you need to fill your stomach with something more substantial than wine tastings. When that time comes, you should kindly ask your deso to point car in the direction of Many Hands Winery, a small producer that excels at both wine and Italian food. Tastings cost $5 here, redeemable against a bottle (and you are quite likely to want to buy at least one to bring home). You can also drink a bottle or two while you get amongst wood-fired pizzas, garlic prawns, an antipasto platter or other Italian snacks and meals. If the weather is nice, you can sit outside, as a small patio abuts the vines.
This winery doesn't take itself too seriously, but it is serious about its product. The entry-level Farmyard series is a very approachable range, featuring playful labels of colourful animals. It is fruit forward, easy drinking wine, the kind you can crack at a barbecue and drink way too much of. Tastings here are $5, and the chardonnay and late harvest dessert wine are particular standouts at Yering Farm. But this being a former fruit farm, fruit is still a big part of what Yering Farm does. Yering offers what it calls 'syder', or pink lady apple cider. It's crisp, perfectly balanced between sweet and tart, and tastes just like biting into a perfectly ripe pink lady apple.
The blink-and-you'll-miss-it shed the serves as the cellar door does not have a fancy restaurant or assembly line of tastings. Instead, you'll find a simple but beautifully finished shed (it was filled with daffodils when we visited), stunning views and a handwritten A4 sheet of paper detailing the wines on offer and their prices. There is no cost to do a tasting, and you should taste everything here. For an example of the kind of winery this is, look no further than the sparkling rosé. It's a delicious combination of chardonnay and pinot noir grapes, fermented in French oak barrels and spending another nine months on lees in the bottle, and made using the Méthode Champenoise. It's no slouch and has a considerable pedigree, but the winemakers here call it simply 'pink fizz' and say it's uncomplicated, delicious, and perfect for anytime drinking. We agree.
TarraWarra Estate has become one of the region's must-see destinations. Built on a hill, the winery's stunning contemporary architecture houses a cellar door, art gallery and restaurant that sits among the estate's vineyard. Visit the cellar door where, for $5 a person, guests can sample wines with winemaker Clare Halloran. Try the Single Block and Reserve ranges – the best chardonnay and pinot noir produced on the Estate. Chef Troy Spencer heads up the winery's restaurant, which uses produce from the kitchen garden and local farms. Don't forget to visit the TarraWarra Museum of Art before you leave to see art by contemporary Australian artists.
The big daddy of bubbles producers in Victoria, Domaine Chandon has been crafting top-shelf sparkling wine since the days it was allowed to be called Champagne. Tastings are $12 for six, and you can choose between still and sparkling. There is also an onsite bar, so once you have tasted your fill it's worth getting a full glass (our favourite is the sparkling pinot shiraz) and enjoying the panoramic views over the vines. You can also do a self-guided tour of the winemaking facilities, with schmick interactive displays to teach you about everything from picking to fermenting, riddling to disgorging sparkling wines. You can also see some of the winery's real equipment, including huge tanks and presses.
The former home of Dame Nellie Melba has been turned into an excellent restaurant and cellar door, specialising in Yarra Valley cool-climate wines like chardonnay and pinot noir. Tastings are $5, and the knowledgeable staff will guide you through a personalised tasting geared towards your personal preferences. Love lighter reds like pinot noir but not a chardy fan? Your tasting will have lighter styles and will stay away from heavy chardonnays (though you might be surprised at how zesty and light the Estate Range chardy is). If you're more of a merlot fan, the staff will give you more full-bodied reds to try. And if you buy a bottle, the tasting fee is waived. You'd do well to start your day in the Yarra Valley at Coombe, which offers a high tea-style breakfast from 9.30am on weekends. For just $35 each you'll get a tiered stand filled with quiches, croissants, mini muffins, mini waffles, mini French toasts and brownie bites. It comes with a glass of blanc de blanc sparkling, as well as tea or espresso coffee. It's the perfect way to start a busy day of wine tasting.
Healesville cellar door and restaurant Giant Steps is named after saxophonist John Coltrane's 1960 album of the same name. Owner Phil Sexton, a massive jazz fan, named his wines in the jazz musician's honour. The winery is a large space split up into a wine bar and dining area towards the front, and an open kitchen and barrell hall in the back. The barrell hall is where you can taste the single vineyard wines Giant Steps is known for, such as winemaker Steve Flamsteed's chardonnays, which have set the benchmark for the Yarra Valley region.
Though the Dominique Portet winery was only founded in 2000, it's the project of a ninth-generation winemaker from Bordeaux. The Dominique Portet winery in the rolling hills of Yarra Valley offers a cellar door open daily, and the restaurant serves country-style lunches (think snack platters, cheese and charcuterie) ideal for a post-wine tasting meal. Taste the Fontaine rosé, one that’s an exceptional berry-driven summery blend of merlot, shiraz and cabernet sauvignon, and a steal at $22 a bottle.
There is nothing worse than drawing the short straw as the designated driver on a wine tour. So rather than suffer through a day of sober driving while all your mates become steadily merrier, book yourself in for one of these guided tours of the Yarra Valley’s top wineries.