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De Bortoli Wines Vineyard - Ultimate Winery Experiences

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by Danielle Norton (subscribe)
I'm a freelance travel, lifestyle and content writer based in Melbourne. Connect with me or have a look at my site https://www.clippings.me/users/daniellenorton for examples of my published work
Published February 5th 2021
Every wine lover needs this day out in the Yarra Valley
Everyone loves a little luxury and sophistication and the De Bortoli winery delivers this by the barrel.

We visit on a rainy summer's day. Clouds roll in over the valley as we descend the winding road from Melbourne, but the acres and acres of vineyards in the region still have an allure that is undeniable. We pass through a pretty leafy courtyard to the cellar door where the bar staff greet us cheerily and call out to our guide, David, who has been eagerly awaiting us all morning. He loves doing the Ultimate Winery Experiences and leading guests through the vineyards, sharing the stories of the De Bortoli family and the secrets of the winemaking process.

The verdant hills of the Yarra Valley


He says hello, hands us our high vis yellow vests and we proceed to the oldest plot in the vineyard to learn about the history of this extensive and prosperous business, run by successive generations of the De Bortoli family for over 90 years. The vines are laden with plump bunches, the recent rain has meant that the fruit is filled with water so picking has been delayed.

David talks us through the history of the Yarra Valley property which was purchased in 1987. We follow him to the factory where we encounter huge white steel tanks of wine that hold the 8000 litres of wine. They are all marked up with the date, the wine codes and the variety. We taste a 20EV Chardonnay straight from the tap. It hasn't had time to develop so it's cloudy, with a flavour that David describes as "wet stone mineral". It's piquant and fresh on my palate, unlike any chardonnay I've ever tasted. Later, in the cellar door, I have the opportunity to sample a chardonnay that has been strained and refined and the difference is conspicuous, the wine much smoother.

"Chardonnay and pinot noir are the stars of this region" says David as he explains the processes, and describes the finish of the wines we are sampling on the factory floor. We then head to the barrel room where we watch him use a 'wine thief' (a valanche) to steal a little from the openings in the smaller oak barrels. Being this close enables us to see how the barrels expand with age as the wine settles. Lined up along one wall are a collection of ceramic barrels, used for a slightly different effect on the wine than oak. There are drainage grates dotted throughout the factory, but we're encouraged to taste and spit (or throw) our excess wine straight onto the floor which is fun but feels naughty.

The wine thief extracting wine from the barrel


We return to the cellar door for an exceptional wine and food pairing experience. Settled on bar stools David teaches us about the five s's of wine tasting; see, swirl, sniff, sip, savour. He guides us through the plate of snacks and treats us to some of the finest wines De Bortoli have to offer. Having him describe the differences between the oak, the acidity, the cedar, and the honeycomb is a true education and I am filing away the knowledge in my memory as he speaks.

Wine and food De Bortoli ultimate winery experience
Wine and food pairing. This is one fancy tasting plate.


We start with Yarra Valley caviar, salmon roe on a black wafer biscuit, and drink the sparkling Este (champagne style), a combination that brings pops and bubbles like a party in your mouth. The Este is a serious, edgy, premium wine made using the traditional champagne method. This sparkling has spent six years on lees and it's divine.

David pours tastes of chardonnay into our glasses, to allow it to warm up a little. Serving a chardonnay too cold can dull its flavours, we learn. We eat a morsel of Kingfish cured in chardonnay and lemon with a slice of radish which melts in the mouth with the wine.

We move on to the pinot noir with a pork terrine on toast with a pea jus. De Bortoli's finest pinot is priced at $120 per bottle and is a pleasure to inhale and then swirl around in our mouths.

Next up is the Melba cabernet, the wine we'd sampled from the barrel earlier. David teaches us a little about the difference between one vintage and another, and helps us out with adjectives to describe what we are tasting. The 2017 vintage is not so fruit forward, with more leather, and flavours of tobacco leaf. The tannins are there but they've softened with the extra 50 months in the bottle.

Finally, we taste the blue cheese accompanied by the award-winning golden Noble One sticky wine. The wine has a primary sweetness with layers to it. This wine can be drunk as an entree, it doesn't have to be a dessert wine (like the French drink an aperitif).

After our tasting, we head into the wine blending class which is the highlight of the experience for me. David explains that today we are creating our own pinot noir and that there are three wines in front of us. We're encouraged to taste each one and take notes about what we like and dislike about each one. On the table are a set of measuring test tubes and funnels to help us pour in the correct amounts.

Blend and label your own wine.


After combining a bit more of one with a little less of another, I announce that I have created the perfect wine and David looks at me earnestly. He takes my concoction, swirls it around in his glass, breathes in the aroma deeply, then sips it, swishing the wine around in his mouth to get a sense of the wine, before aiming it into his personal spittoon. David approves of my blend, and I am a little smug - until I have to multiply the percentages and the 50 ml quantities to decant into my 750ml bottle. Thankfully, they are prepared for their mathematically challenged (and the tipsy) students. There is a convenient percentages conversion table.

We stay to have lunch at the on-site restaurant, Locale. Starting with our favourite, the sparkling Este, my friend Kate wants more of the Hiramasa kingfish crudo and I order a burrata, an Italian cow milk cheese salad with rocket, fennel, dried tomato and aged balsamic vinegar. We then enjoy a Fiano Greco which pairs perfectly with my ricotta ravioli with rainbow chard, pine nuts and lemon pressed olive oil and Kate's spanner crab and squid ink linguine. Neither of us has eyes for dessert, even though we are usually suckers for the tiramisu and the caramel tart on the menu. Our full day of eating and drinking has done us in. We have coffee before heading downstairs to thank David and pick up our personal vintage wine and some gifted De Bortoli aprons and hit the road back to Melbourne.

Burrata
A delicious burrata salad for lunch at Locale


Only 45 minutes and we're back in town, but the De Bortoli tour and the Ultimate Winery Experience has really impressed us. Every wine snob should do this. The Ultimate Winery Experience group has offerings in every state of Australia. I know, for sure, that when we make our way to Margaret River later in the year, an Ultimate Winery tour will be on our list of things to do.

Bookings are essential for cellar door tastings.
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Why? For an amazing wine education with hands-on learning
Phone: (03) 5965 2271
Where: 58 Pinnacle Lane, Dixons Creek VIC 3775
Cost: $250
Your Comment
Very informative article Danielle. I worked in a Yarra Valley winery for ten years, plus a few years picking grapes, so I understood you article perfectly. I'm a non-drinker, but I still enjoyed reading your article.
by Neil Follett (score: 3|3114) 233 days ago
Sounds like a wonderful and delicious day out.
by Nadine Cresswell-Myatt (score: 3|6067) 230 days ago
Sounds great, Danielle! And has me wishing for Feb to finish quickly... we're having a 'dry' month, courtesy of FebFast...
by Fiona Anderson (score: 3|1022) 233 days ago
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