The Yarra Valley wine region: Home to diverse cool-climate wines

Vineyard at Boat O'Craigo
The Yarra Valley has a 170-year heritage and is still one of the most dynamic wine regions in Australia. Located only 45 minutes from Melbourne with an array of microclimates, it draws in a diverse range of winemakers, sparking a sense of progressiveness that is hard to parallel in other regions.

We recently spoke to Meg Brodtmann MW from Rob Dolan Wines about life in the Yarra Valley wine region. Meg lived in Apalta, one of Chile’s stunning wine regions for eight years, and it says a lot that she chooses to call the Yarra Valley home. After starting a career in medical research, she was drawn into winemaking and after experiencing the Yarra Valley’s diverse lifestyle, she has never looked back.

Full of fresh experiences

The Yarra Valley is located at the foothills of Mount Dandenong Ranges, the far southern end of the Great Dividing Range. With so many hills and valleys, the microclimate, aspect, and location of each vineyard influences how the grapes are grown. It is an interesting place to travel through because you can turn a corner and see a completely different vista compared to the one you just experienced.

The Upper Yarra is north of the Yarra and has a higher elevation. It’s colder and has more rich, red, volcanic soil, making it an ideal place to grow strawberries, raspberries, and grapes. The Lower Yarra is made up of the Valley floor, which was an inland sea over 450 million years ago. It is full of grey-brown, sandy loam.

A hot air balloon in Yarra Valley

Yarra Valley Wine Region's Favourite Varieties: Cabernet, Chardonnay, and Pinot Noir

The heritage wineries in the Yarra Valley were traditionally known for Cabernet Sauvignon. However, as the climate and tastes have changed, people started planting varieties like Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Pinot thrives in the Yarra’s cool climate, even in summer when the days get hotter, but the evenings stay cool. The Upper Yarra also enjoys a higher elevation and cool breezes that come down from the hill ranges and extend the growing season.

Cabernet Sauvignon on the other hand is grown in the “Golden Mile” of vineyards at the foothills of the Warramate Ranges. Pinot Noir can be grown in this warmer area, but it tends to be a juicier style.

Vines in the Yarra Valley

The Yarra Valley might have a 170-year legacy, but that hasn’t resulted in any inertia.

The birthplace of Victorian wine

The Yarra Valley might have a 170-year legacy, but that hasn’t resulted in any inertia. Wine was grown in the Yarra Valley from the mid-1800s and was a main export of the new colony. However, production stopped in the 1920s due to the economic slowdown. Yeringberg is a Yarra Valley farm, vineyard and winery, established in 1863 and now heading into its fifth generation of forward-thinking custodianship by the de Pury family.

Wantirna Estate was the first of the new-generation vineyards planted in 1963. Dr Bailey Carrodus also established Yarra Yering after studying the best vineyards and wineries in France, Spain, Portugal and Italy.

Then in the 90s, the famous wine writer and lawyer, James Halliday, planted his first vines and created the Coldstream Hills brand. Dave Bicknell then came along and defined the newer style of Yarra Valley Chardonnay at Oakridge. Rob Dolan also started many of the now iconic Yarra Valley wineries, such as Punt Road and Rob Dolan Wines.

While there have been two major waves of change, many of the historical vineyards are still family-owned. The younger generations have wanted to continue the family’s agricultural pursuit, which is a trend that’s hard to find in other regions. Yarra Valley wine region is uniquely positioned only 45 minutes from Melbourne, meaning that people can live the best of both worlds.

Reinvention and rejuvenation

A crop of progressive winemakers, such as the likes of Natillie Johnston (aka Tillie J) is emerging. Attached to the land and mindful of sustainability, these winemakers want to preserve the land for future generations. The mentality is flowing through the region and creating a constant source of rejuvenation. Different grape varieties are also being explored. The Yarra Valley has been all about Pinot, Chardonnay, and Cabernet for years. Now with climate change, more Italian varietals are being planted.

 The Yarra Valley is also a helpful place during vintage. When something goes wrong, you can always ring a neighbour who will lend you something or send an electrician out to help you. They might even dig you out of a trench.

Two people drinking mulled wine
A group of friends pouring and drinking wine

More than wine

The local food scene has changed a lot since Meg’s childhood and there are a lot more options outside of burgers and fish and chip shops. Meg describes the food now in the Yarra Valley as next level, with an abundance of cheesemaking, gin production, breweries, and pasta producers.

The historic Mechanics Institute is also one of Rob Dolan Wines’ top recommendations for accommodation and AirBnb’s are popping up in vineyards. For example, Stefani Estate produces bread, olive oil, and salami and has two open-plan units within walking distance of the cellar door.

Food production and consumption are also going more local, with a thriving market scene and people wanting to take a more holistic approach to what they do in life.

Fireside Festival in Yarra Valley

Where craft and country come together

The Yarra Valley has wineries of all different standings and sizes. The whole region is also geared up for tourism. You can visit a chocolate factory, go to a gin tasting, and then visit Payten and Jones, run by two school friends who are passionate about natural and sustainable wine – all in one day. There are also beautiful restaurants, such as No7 Healesville, which offers a seasonal shared-style menu and some of the best organic wines from around the world.

Meg recommends visiting during the Harvest months from March to May. The leaves turn golden and you can always ask to pop your head out the back of a winery and see people filling barrels.

Spring is also beautiful because the landscape turns green again and the flowers start to bloom. July also brings the Fireside Yarra Valley festival, which celebrates the best of winter in the Yarra with plenty of outdoor events and a twilight market.

A celebration of diversity

There are over eighty wineries in the Yarra Valley, each of them willing to push the boundaries and express the full diversity of the region’s terroir.

Image Credits

Top to bottom: Boat O’Craigo, Yarra Valley, Yarra Valley vines, and Fireside Festival courtesy of Wine Yarra Valley.

Shop boutique wine from Australia's best wine regions