Have you even been to Australia if you haven’t been on a winery tour?
This week I went to five Yarra Valley wineries, drank some samples of stunning wine, and ate a ton of cheese. It was a fab day out (we saw kangaroos!) with tons of delicious wines and cheeses and I highly recommend it. Read on to find out more about what we did!
I’m not a big wine drinker.
But perhaps surprisingly, my number one thing To Do in Melbourne was to take a trip to the Yarra Valley and visit some of the vineyards (or wineries, as I now know). My family is Very Into wine (not in an alcoholic way!) so I grew up with dinner parties where people discussed the grape of wine it was and whether or not it was good value for money and what had been recommended in the wine press (?!) that month. Meanwhile, I’m very ‘Is it white or is it red?’ and ‘Is it less than £8 a bottle?’ and if the answer to those questions is ‘yes’ I’m good. (I know that the answer to white or red isn’t ‘yes’, but hopefully that gives you a sense of how little I know about wine).
Anyway, out of loyalty to them and probably a misconceived idea that somehow in Australia I’ll finally join the ranks of People Who Know About Wine And Have Opinions That Aren’t £8-Or-Less, I was determined to book myself onto a tour.
I went with Vinetrekker on their Yarra Valley Food and Wine Tour (you can find more information here). I chose Vinetrekker even though it was quite pricey at $215 (most other tours seem to hover around the $140 mark) because I was really keen to try some cheese along the way – a) because I love cheese and if the opportunity presents itself, I’m going to have cheese and b) because this seemed to be one of the only tours where you got mid-morning and mid-afternoon snacks to go along with the wine, which to me sounded like a good idea.
We ended up having 18 samples and two full glasses, so cheese definitely was a good idea.
Another reason I chose Vinetrekker is that most of the tours I researched take you to a dairy/creamery to see where the cheese is made, and/or (more commonly) a chocolaterie. Reviews seemed to suggest the chocolaterie gets super busy and is less enjoyable, and I felt that I’d rather see more wineries, with a mix of different types of wines, and have a cheese platter, than two factories and no cheese platter. Also, I didn’t think I’d want a ton of chocolate after a day of drinking wine. Almost all the tours I found included lunch – sadly, the Vinetrekker tour didn’t include dessert, but the cheese plates make up for that.
I met the group bus near Flinders Street Station at 8:30 on Saturday, met by our guide and driver for the day, Shane. Shane was great, personable and made a lot of effort to get us to bond as a group – there were four of us doing the full day of wine tasting, and another five who were spending half the day at Healesville Wildlife Sanctuary (I was tempted by this, but figured that I’d be able to see kangaroos, koalas and platypus at some other point this year) and would meet up with us four for the last two tastings and lunch.
After collecting everyone, we set off for the Yarra Valley!
It took perhaps forty minutes to get to the first winery (Coldstream), but it didn’t feel long as Shane spent the journey telling us about the local landmarks, the history of Melbourne and the surrounding areas. I’m usually a bit sceptical of this kind of thing, but it was really interesting – Shane kept the history brief but engaging, and added a lot to my enjoyment of the day.
Our first stop was Coldstream Hills – we were the first tour of the day, arriving around 10AM. We tried six wines here – very generous samples! – a sparkling, two whites and three reds. The sparkling was really unusual – nothing like the prosecco I’m used to back home! – but otherwise the wines were a bit sharp for my taste. I think they probably deserve a more sophisticated palette! It was a great intro to the day, as we learned that Coldstream is owned by James Halliday, who (apparently) writes The Definitive Guide to wine, which winery owners live and die by (he gets someone external to judge the wines he has a stake in!).
Next stop was Medhurst Winery – a beautiful, independent place, the vines surrounded by unique sculptures brought down from Sydney, and the wine here, Shane was at pains to tell us, doesn’t have barcodes. The only place you can buy Medhurst wines is at Medhurst Winery.
The landscape of the Yarra Valley is stunning.
We were treated to incredible views at Medhurst at their absolutely beautiful restaurant and tasting area. Huge glass windows afforded beautiful views over what was shaping up to be a gorgeous day. Here is where we were also treated to our first cheese platter of the day – starting with the most divine feta I’ve ever had in my life, made here in the Yarra Valley. You can buy it at Coles (one of Australia’s biggest supermarket chains) for $10 and I’m seriously considering buying a tub to eat for dinner. It was so good. So good I almost forgot about the wines!
The wines at Medhurst were hands-down the nicest I’ve ever had.
And as I’ve said, I’m not a big wine drinker. I can’t really tell the difference enough to articulate myself – I definitely couldn’t define a grape with a taste. All I can tell you is that every one of us adored the wines at Medhurst, and we all bought something here.
We started with a rosé. I don’t like rosé. Much like my opposition to Apple’s Keynote (which can’t decide if it wants to be PowerPoint or InDesign), I find rosé wine to be the worst bits of white and red together. I find it metallic, sharp and not-at-all-tasty. I always avoid it (and I work in advertising, so this is no mean feat).
The rosé at Medhurst was so gorgeous I bought a bottle.
I have gone from being a rosé-hater to a rosé stan. It was GORGEOUS. If you’d asked me at the time, I would have said it was the nicest wine I’d ever drank. But we still had more samples to come…
We also had two whites, then two reds. One of which I bought, again, being delicious, one of which is a combination of a white grape and a red grape. This is apparently not so rare, but usually what happens is you mix the two wines together. Here at Medhurst, they mix the grapes together, allowing the grapes to ‘steep’ (sadly, I didn’t pick up any technical lingo on this trip, so apologies to the wine nerds out there) in their skins together, creating an unusual blend. It was nice, but a bit strong for me (the others on the trip, who were much more sophisticated in their tastes, loved it, so don’t necessarily listen to me). Finally, we tried a sweet dessert wine, called Frances, named for the owner’s daughter.
This wine. Guys.
It was tasted as rich as fresh-pressed juice, it was gorgeous – rich and fruity and so nice. One of the girls on the tour bought two bottles, which I regret not doing too, to be honest. We left Medhurst very reluctantly, heading off to Chandon for our last stop before meeting up with the others.
Chandon is that Chandon.
Yes, the one you’re thinking of – the French sparkling wine house. Owned by Louis-Vuitton-Moet-Hennessey, this is Fancy AF Wine.
At Chandon, we were allowed to gallivant through the vineyards themselves. As it’s just Spring, they were more like twigs at this point – if you’re keen to see the vines ‘in full bloom’ it’s best to visit in November/December, when it’s the height of Summer. It was still cool to get one of those photos with the rolling hills of the Valley behind you!
We went through the Riddling Hall – at Chandon, they hand-turn each bottle of sparkling wine in order to reduce the explosive gases but keep the pressure enough for bubbles, which is partly why it’s so expensive. This process takes a minimum of five years to get the right amount of bubbles – another reason why it’s so expensive. The riddling hall was really cool – filled with dust-covered bottles (which at this stage have beer caps, so they can drain some of the bitty ‘dregs’ of the wine before the real cork is put in and it’s sold to the public). Emerging out of the riddling hall, we then went to our own little studio, where an employee took us through the four varieties of sparkling wine we’d be able to choose from.
At Chandon, sadly, you don’t get to try each – but you do get a full (generous!) flute of the sparkling wine of your choice.
Now this is where it gets interesting.
Apparently, this is common knowledge for Aussies – but for me and the other non-Aussie on the trip, we were surprised to learn that it is popular – and readily available – in Australia to drink red “champagne”. That’s right, sparkling red wine. I don’t know why this blew our minds so much, but it did (I recounted this to one of the other English girls at work, who was also really weirded out by this – so it’s not just us).
The other options on offer were a sparkling rosé (this is normal. I’m not sure why, if I’m OK to accept sparkling rosé, the sparkling red was so shocking, but there you go), a regular sparkling, a cuvée brut (extra-fancy, as far as I understand), and the sparkling red. Three of the four of us went for the sparkling red. I figured, when else will I try this surely-a-novelty drink, that is supposedly ‘Christmas in a glass’?
The sparkling red wine was really good.
I’m still thinking about it three days later (this makes me sound like an alcoholic; I swear, I’m not) (it’s going to be difficult to write this post without sounding like an alcoholic, I suppose) (I repeat – I’m not!). I almost regret not buying a bottle – but apparently you can buy it in Dan Murphy’s (a large chain of “Bottle-Os” – a.k.a. off-licenses, a.k.a. places to buy booze) so I think I’ll try buy a bottle as a Christmas present for my family.
We took our sparkles and went out to enjoy the sun and the view, before heading back to the van at 1:45 to rejoin the guys from the other tour and head over to Yering Station for more wine and some lunch with another view.
Yering Station is named for the Aboriginal word for ‘meeting place’.
It’s one of the oldest wineries in Australia and has a ton of atmosphere. We had another six wines to try here, all good. I have to admit, at this point, to be honest, I was getting pretty wine’d-out. The wines were nice but as a novice, my palette was finding it harder and harder to tell the wines apart, and I was pretty hungry! Luckily, after this flight, we were whisked next door to have lunch in another gorgeous restaurant overlooking the valley. The food was fab – we started with bread and truffle butter, then I chose the duck. We were allowed another full glass of wine – I chose a viognier, it being the only grape I know (when in doubt, I bring a bottle of Elegant Frog, another viognier, for dinner – it’s in every supermarket in the UK and my Mum rates it. Good in my book).
Our last stop was De Bortolis – another famous Yarra winery.
We got another delicious cheese plate here – a mix of local and European cheeses – and another flight of red and white wines, finishing off with a truly delicious tawny. It was lovely and sweet, and paired with the gorgeous cheese, was a great end to the day. The sommelier here was really entertaining – balancing lots of information about the wines with a great sense of humour, rounding out the day with a bunch of (by now) somewhat tipsy tourists with aplomb. I treated myself to a glass – a literal one, stamped with the winery logo, as a $10 memento of the day!
After rounding up our purchases, it was time to get back in the van and head back to Melbourne. We spotted kangaroos on the way – well, everyone else did, I kept missing them as we whizzed past, so when someone next shouted out ‘kangaroos!’, Shane very kindly slowed the van down so I could take a look. It was really exciting watching them bound across the hills – I felt a bit like a child, but it was thrilling to see such an icon of Australia being, well, iconic! As we wended our way back through the city streets of central Melbourne, Shane continued to point out various bars, restaurants and laneways to check out while we’re here, before dropping me where we met at Flinders Street Station at around 5:30PM.
It was a great Saturday – and I’m glad I splurged.
I’m really pleased I went with Vinetrekker – to me, the extra money was definitely worth it. We were in a small group, and we really bonded over the course of the day, which made the experience much more fun. Shane was a fantastic guide – a great sport and really knew his stuff. And for me, the highlights of the day were the wines and cheeses at Medhurst, who aren’t on most tour itineraries, and the full sparkling flute at Chandon (for the experience of trying sparkling red!), which again, I didn’t see on many other itineraries.
At no point during the day did I feel rushed, or overwhelmed, or ‘hemmed in’. I’ve read some reviews of other tours that mention hitting up the most touristy places and not fully being able to experience the day, as there are so many people around them. The Vinetrekker tour was a great balance of hitting the Must-Sees (Yering Station, De Bortolis, Coldstream) with those special touches (the cheese plates, Medhurst).
And if you think about it, $215 for three full flights (18 generous samples), a gourmet lunch, two cheese plates, a full glass of white and a full glass of sparkling, plus transport and “entry” (the overheads for the tasting sessions) to five wineries – that’s not a bad deal!
Have you been on a winery or vineyard tour? Have you been on one in Australia? What was your experience like?
Unsurprisingly, this tour wasn’t sponsored or gifted! All the opinions are my own; I genuinely picked Vinetrekker because it looked like the best tour for me. I did contact them about writing this blog to make sure Shane would be all right with me writing a review and using the pictures, and they said it was totally OK and they’d like to read it when it’s posted!