Writer/photographer (& coffee snob), living in Melbourne's inner west. Visit www.insiteimages.com.au for more photos.
Published October 10th 2014
Forget football, drink wine
It's Grand Final Saturday in the Yarra Valley and all 10 of us aboard the Wild Wombat Winery Tour mini-bus are having fun, bumping along off the main road, with Gary at the wheel. Gary fills us in on the history of the cool climate wine region, where vines were first planted in 1838 and gives a background to the wineries we visit. Having previously been to the iconic Yering Station, Balgownie Estate (worth a visit for the beautiful landscaped gardens) and Punt Road Winery (aah, the cider) we requested more boutique wineries on our itinerary this year. Everyone on board was up for a good time - including myself and three friends, a couple we met the previous year, who also returned, as well as new faces.
Like the winemakers, who share their stories and wines, each cellar door is unique. We 'discover' wineries we had never heard of, and ones to which we will return. On a gorgeous spring day, while crowds cheer at the MCG, we enjoy wine and conversation, admiring lavender hedges, views across the vine-planted slopes, gnarled gum trees and inviting courtyards. Here's a sampling of some places:
Boat O'Craigo: No boats or craggy peaks here, the vineyard named after an ancestral farm in Scotland, which is where the similarity stops, in this distinctly Australian setting.
Hanrahan Vineyard: Vivacious Bev Hanrahan welcomed us into the rustic tasting area, Darcy the dog plodded around for a pat, and Paul the winemaker guided us through the experience, their reds (and hospitality) a standout.
Badgers' Brook Vineyard: Soak up the country air, at one of their sunny courtyard tables and taste - the Shiraz impressed. There is an adjacent bakery and restaurant, independently operated.
HINT: Mix it up – visit big name and boutique wineries. A group of smaller wineries have their own 'trail'.
Lunch is included in the Wild Wombat tour. Tokar Estate was the venue this year, notable for the Spanish-inspired architecture and impressive grounds. A tasting preceded lunch, from which we selected a glass of wine to accompany our choice of main, with complementary fries and greens for the table. Coffee followed.
We piled back in the bus, the crate in the rear clinking with our cellar door purchases along the way. Last stop - Domaine Chandon, to finish the day with some sparkling. Martin of DC poured the wines, and though it is a busy, noisy (and grand) place, he was smiling and patient with our (now giggly) group of 10!
FACTS: The WILD WOMBAT bus will pick up/drop off from Melbourne city or local accommodation, for $110 per person, including lunch and all tasting fees. The YARRA VALLEY is just over an hour from Melbourne.
I can recommend staying in the region and particularly Yarra Valley Farm Vineyard, about 3 km out of Healesville, where Greg and Louise Dunnett are very welcoming. On their vineyard/alpaca farm are 3 comfortable, spacious cottages. Admire the views across to the forest from your own deck and listen to the soothing soundtrack of birds and Chum Creek bubbling along at the bottom of the property.
At the end of the day, relax in the outdoor spa, sip one of the wines bought on the tour and watch the alpacas graze, as the sun sets over the tree line, in beautiful Yarra Valley. We might just do it all again, next year!