Part of the Port Philip zone which surrounds Melbourne, the Yarra Valley is located an hour outside Melbourne and is one of the most important fine wine growing regions in Australia. The Yarra Valley’s viticultural history extends back to 1838 when the Ryrie Brothers planted the first vineyards at what is now Yering Station, with the first vintage produced in 1845 by the legendary James Dardel. In 1863 Hubert de Castella established St Huberts Vineyards and Guillaume de Pury established Yeringberg, bringing the total area under vine to 430 acres. This trend continued with the establishment of Yeringa with David Mitchell planting vineyards at Stringybark Creek increasing the area under vine to 1000 acres. This period of growth was followed by a series of poor vintages and tough economic conditions which saw vineyard production completely cease by 1937.
The Yarra Valley’s modern renaissance began when Reg Egan planted Wantirna Estate in 1963 and was followed in the late 1960s and early 1970s by Mount Mary, Yeringberg, Yarra Yering, St Huberts, Seville Estate, Yarra Burn, Chateaux Yeringa (now de Bortoli) and others, From the this period through to the late 1990’s investment and expansion continued, with the majority of wineries small, quality conscious, boutique producers of top quality wine which fetched appropriate prices. The latter period of the 1990’s saw large scale corporate investment, with Moet & Chandon establishing Domaine Chandon alongside acquisitions by Mildara Blass, McWilliams, Hardys and others.
The Yarra Valley is a diverse and cool climate region with a lower average growing temperature than both Bordeaux and Burgundy, the principle white variety is Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc, while the red varieties that the region is renowned for are Cabernet Sauvignon (with associated Bordeaux varieties of Merlot, Petit Verdot and Cabernet Franc) which helped put the Yarra Valley on the map followed by Pinot Noir which arrived en masse in the 1980s and followed more recently by Shiraz (which is sometimes blended with Viognier). Both Pinot Noir and Chardonnay are also cultivated as sparkling base. Interestingly, vineyards planted in the cool, upper Yarra Valley for the production of sparkling wine are now being used for table wines. Whether it’s global warming or just that recent vintages have been warmer, there is little doubt that the Upper Yarra including places such as Hoddles Creek and other sub-districts such as Woori Yallock have really come into their own over the last 5-10 years.
Chardonnay styles vary across winemakers and site, with a distinctive aromatic profile of melon and fig in warmer sites and white peach and grapefruit from cooler vineyards. Both styles are characterised by good acidity. Outstanding producers include Oakridge, Toolangi, Coldstream Hills, de Bortoli, Giant Steps, Mac Forbes and Hoddles Creek. The Yarra Valley is one of the first Australian regions to establish Pinot Noir of high regard, with notes of plum, cherry and strawberry and a characteristic underlying sappy acidity and fine soft tannins. Outstanding producers include de Bortoli, Coldstream Hills, Giant Steps and Mount Mary and Wedgetail. Yarra Valley Cabernet is almost always blended with traditional Bordeaux varieties and is characterised as a medium bodied wine, elegant, with notes of cassis, hay, tobacco leaf, fine silky tannins and remarkable longevity. Outstanding producers include Mount Mary, Yarra Yarra, Yeringberg, Wantirna Estate. Shiraz is less prevalent in the Yarra Valley and highly dependent on vineyard location favouring warmer growing conditions. Increasingly producers are following the Northern Rhone Cote Rotie blend by adding small quantities of Viognier for added colour and aromatic lift. Classic Yarra Valley Shiraz is almost always of a cool climate style with notes of pepper, black cherry and spice with fine silky tannins. Outstanding producers include Yering Station, de Bortoli, Jamsheed, Yarra Yarra and recently Serrat.
The Oxford Companion to Wine, (ed) Jancis Robinson
James Hallidays Wine Atlas of Australian, James Halliday