Not many people may know this, but Victoria’s Yarra Valley was one of the first vineyard areas established in Australia. The Scottish-born Ryrie brothers ventured into the Yarra Valley as they moved their cattle south from Sydney (quite a trip by horseback I reckon!), and ended up settling in the area- first setting up a vineyard in 1838- today is known as Yering Station. This predates regions such as the Margaret River, McLaren Vale, Mornington Peninsula and even the Coonawarra!
The Yarra grows a varied mix of grape varieties, however is classified as a cool-climate region, meaning the varieties that do best are Chardonnay and Pinot Noir (and of course sparkling wines from these 2 varieties). Pinot Noir and Chardonnay aren’t the only doyens however, with cellar classics such as Mount Mary, Yeringberg , Yarra Yering and Wantirna Estate producing world-class reds from Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and Malbec- the quintet of Bordeaux varietals finding a happy home in this cold corner of Victoria. Of key importance in the survival of varieties in this region is their ability to deal with wet weather- the Yarra is one of Australia’s wettest wine regions, copping an average of 750-950mm per year.
Many local producers, such as Dave Bicknall of Oakridge Wines, Mac Forbes of Mac Forbes Wines and one of the most influential wine writers in Australia and Yarra local, James Halliday have flown the flag for sub-regionality in the Yarra. They (along with many others) believe that the Yarra has such diversity between sites that they should be defined, just as in Burgundy, as their own regions. Who knows, in a few years I might be writing about these sub-regions individually! So whenever you see a Yarra Valley wine with the name ‘Woori Yallock’, ‘Gruyere’, ‘Lilydale’, ‘Coldstream’ or ‘Guerin’ on a bottle, it means the wine comes from one of these sub-regions.
One of the aspects of the Yarra that makes it unique is the slope of the land. In the north is the Valley Floor, which sits at around 50-80 metres above sea level, however as you head south, there is a constant slope in the terrain, bringing you to the Upper Yarra, which sits at around 400 metres above sea level. This north facing downwards slope means that in the growing months, the vines are hit by sunlight from dawn to dusk, allowing full ripening in this cool region. The cool nights meanwhile allow for accumulation of acid in the berries- a trademark of this region.
The Yarra stands at the forefront of the new Chardonnay and Cabernet movement, and hopefully the end of “ABC”(Anything But Chardonnay/Cabernet). Gone are the days (mostly) of punchy, buttery, creamy Chardies and sweet, viscous, jammy Cabs with their equally punchy 15% alcohol. More than any specific soil type, it is the climate and orientation of the Yarra that gives its wines structure and balance, as well as a fine elegance- something many of those old styles were definitely lacking. It also helps that the Yarra is only an hour from Australia’s 2nd largest city!
Wine Sales Manager