The Yarra Valley is only an hour from Melbourne, making it the perfect day trip or weekend away. The region specializes in chardonnay and pinot noir grapes, which also happen to make perfect sparkling wine. But if you know where to look, you’ll also find less common varietals, like nebbiolo, Savagnin and Chenin blanc.
There are 160 wineries to try in the region, from tiny mom-and-pop operations to giant foreign-owned behemoths. Don’t know where to start? These are our favorite wineries in the Yarra Valley right now.
For more mini-break ideas, visit our guide to Victoria’s best getaways. Alternatively, stay close to the city and discover Melbourne’s best wine bars.
Winery dining is a bit of a ‘thing’ right now. You only have to look at all the young folk colonizing tables at Pt Leo Estate and Tuck’s Ridge and Oakridge to realize there’s something in the water.
And the signs are that winery restaurants are following their demographic cues. Stuffy winery fine dining (you know, with the linen and Escoffier-style sauces) is going the way of the dinosaurs, replaced by food that gently interrogates the wine, food and terroir nexus.
This brings us to Oakridge in the Yarra Valley. A typical architectural monument to mammon surrounded by sloping hills of vines and an impressive kitchen garden, it’s the home of some spectacular wines (hello, 864 Funder chardonnay) and a buzzing cellar door.
But make sure you step inside to the broad-boned dining room, where floor-to-ceiling windows afford David Attenborough-worthy views of galahs flitting past a magpie as it scoffs a worm lunch on the lawn.
It’s no less locavore inside the kitchen thanks to the combined, non-hierarchical cheffing talents of Matt Stone and Jo Barrett, who have spent the past four years honing their location-sensitive craft into something approaching peak deliciousness.
Take the sourdough, made with biodynamic wheat Barrett mills each day. Her unwavering commitment to superior carbs is repaid in a caramel-crusted loaf served with the gentle tang of buttermilk curds from a small herd of Jersey cows who live nearby.
It’s a not-so-humble start to a meal that covers plenty of bases (Euro, Asian, Mod-Oz and all bases in between) but always keeps its feet on Valley ground.
Seize your chance to eat our national emblems. Gently peppery swatches of kangaroo salami need just a drizzle of fruity local olive oil to reach perfect appetizer status. Velvety cured emu tastes like gamey beef and gets sparked up with the citrus pop of the green ants hiding in a salsa verde.
Going by this, predictions that insects going mainstream is not such a terrible prospect, especially when you add cultured cream and the umami hit of cured egg yolk into the equation.
More baking excellence materializes in the form of the snail-like whorls of a caraway croissant, the flaky handmaiden to smoked trout served with a kind of Haute hedgerow salad and cultured cream.
Smoked quail and lap Cheong smashed into a farce and cooked inside the bird’s golden skin take a gutsy Canto line, bedded alongside silken tofu and tiny yet punchy local shiitakes in an XO the kitchen makes with local trout trimmings instead of prawn heads in deference to Oakridge’s distance from the ocean.
Finish with a Christmas pudding allspice ice cream that will warm you all the way to the cockles – or gooey brie made in-house (thanks again to those Jersey cows) and old bread that Barrett pulps into a porridge and fries into giant pappadum-sized crackers.
It’s a worthy afterlife for that best-in-show bread, and a gentle, zeitgeist-worthy interrogation not only of winery dining but of the way all restaurants should be looking to minimize waste while maximizing taste. Young and old, we can all agree on that.
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Many Hands Winery
Tasting your way around the Yarra Valley is hungry work, and there will come a time in your day when you need to fill your stomach with something more substantial than wine tastings. When that time comes, you should kindly ask your deso to point the car in the direction of Many Hands Winery, a small producer that excels at both wine and Italian food.
Tastings cost $5 here, redeemable against a bottle (and you are quite likely to want to buy at least one to bring home). You can also drink a bottle or two while you get amongst wood-fired pizzas, garlic prawns, an antipasto platter or other Italian snacks and meals. If the weather is nice, you can sit outside, as a small patio abuts the vines.
Point Leo Estate
Without knowing who owns Point Leo Estate, it’s clear a certain amount of money has gone into the place. Even the carpark is immaculately signposted and asphalted. On busy days, golf carts zip up and down the slight incline, carrying guests to the Grand Arch (a sculpture by Inge King), and the main building’s towering concrete walls, which screen the spectacular view from new arrivals.
Walkthrough these imposing grey curtains to reveal the gentle curve of Western Port Bay and, in the foreground, a sculpture park containing 40 works from renowned local and international artists. The vast restaurant, cellar door and wine terrace have a 180-degree vantage of it all.
The Gandel family (of shopping center fame) spent some $50 million doing up the 130-hectare site. It was a working winery and private retreat for more than two decades before it opened to the public in late 2017. Melbourne-based architecture firm Jolson designed the fluid-looking main building in the image of wine being poured into a glass.
Taken as a whole, it’s big and it’s overwhelming. First-timers should start at the island bench that acts as the cellar door and sample the estate’s chardonnay, pinot gris, pinot noir and shiraz – of which there are many vintages. Just be warned: at $40 to $60, these aren’t the best value bottles on the Peninsula.
Move onto a shared lunch in the bistro, made with local produce such as Cape Schanck Olive Oil, pork from Woolumbi Farm and cheese from Main Ridge Dairy. Or you could book into 40-seat fine diner Laura for a full degustation.
The sculpture park is curated by Geoffrey Edwards, the former director of Geelong Gallery and a former senior curator of international and Australian sculpture at the National Gallery of Victoria.
He’s chosen to showcase local and international artists including Tony Cragg, George Rickey, Jaume Plensa, Lenton Parr and Andrew Rogers. Two serpentine paths guide visitors through the gardens – one is a 40-minute walk, the other takes around an hour and a half. There’s an admission fee for both and the park is open to 5pm daily.
Port Phillip Estate
In a region where every turn reveals a breathtaking view, Port Phillip Estate still manages to stand out. The brutalist limestone rammed-earth structure straddles a ridge, granting views of distant Westernport Bay and the rolling hills of the Mornington Peninsula.
Giorgio Gjergja bought Port Phillip Estate vineyard in 2000, followed by the nearby 95-acre Kooyong winery four years later. But it wasn’t until November 2009 that he unveiled the impressive, bunker-like structure (by Wood Marsh Architects) that makes Port Phillip such a striking landmark today.
The building is made up of two wings, which unfurl off a central “body”. Turn left and you’re in the dining room, which hosts weddings and other events for a good chunk of the year. Turn right for the cellar door, where you can taste up to 20 wines, including Kooyong’s single-vineyard Farrago Chardonnay and Port Phillip’s pinot noir. Either way, you’re never far from a window and that view.
You wouldn’t know it, but wine production is completely internal. The winery and barrel room are hidden in the basement, five meters below the cellar door. The rammed earth acts as natural insulation, removing the need for temperature control. Also hidden in the basement: six self-contained, unbelievably stylish rooms with vineyard views and photographs by Bill Henson.
The set-price, Mediterranean-inspired menu matches the grandeur of the surroundings. Expect plenty of local produce, such as whiting and mussels from Port Phillip Bay, and vegetables from up the road. There’s also a more casual cellar door menu, offering the likes of fettuccini with pine nuts and chargrilled Koo Wee Rup asparagus.
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Patricia’s Table at Brown Brothers Winery
Brown Brothers have been around for a long time. Since 1889 to be exact when founder John Francis Brown planted a vineyard at Milawa. He was just 18 years old. Four generations on, and the winery is still based on this same land.
To celebrate its centenary, Brown Brothers launched the “kindergarten”, a micro-winery dedicated to experimenting with winemaking techniques and exploring new styles and varietals.
Brown Brothers were the first winery in Australia to open a restaurant on-site, solving that problem of too much wine tasting and not enough food to soak it up with.
At fine-dining restaurant Patricia’s Table, entrees include a goats-milk-ricotta tart with peppers, candied black olives, pine nuts and tomato jelly; and fried quail breast and terrine served with apple kimchi and yuzu mayonnaise. Mains take a hearty turn, perfect for a comforting winter lunch.
There’s honey-glazed pork with Italian coleslaw, boudin noir hash brown and apple relish, and rolled goat shoulder with pickled pumpkin and lentil dahl.
Next door, the more relaxed Epi.Curious offers cheese and charcuterie boards, light meals, coffee and cake. Here you can also enjoy a wine flight, or simply a glass or two out on the lawn.
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Not to be confused with nearby Yering Station, Yering Farm is a small winery carved out of what used to be a fruit farm when Alan Johns asked his father to give him five acres of the estate’s 200 to turn into a winery.
The entry-level Farmyard series is a very approachable range, featuring playful labels of colorful animals. It is fruit-forward, easy-drinking wine, the kind you can crack at a barbecue and drink way too much of. The next step up is the Yering Farm Estate series, and a $5 tasting at Yering Farm includes a taste of the George cabernet sauvignon, named after Alan’s father.
The chardonnay and late harvest dessert wine are particular standouts at Yering Farm.
But this being a former fruit farm, fruit is still a big part of what Yering Farm does. Yering offers what Johns calls ‘syder’, or pink lady apple cider. It’s crisp, perfectly balanced between sweet and tart, and tastes just like biting into a perfectly ripe pink lady apple.
You know a winery is going to be good when it’s recommended by another winemaker in the region. Maddens Rise was recommended by another Yarra Valley winery, and boy, are we glad to get the recommendation.
The blink-and-you’ll-miss-it shed serves as the cellar door does not have a fancy restaurant or assembly line of tastings. Instead, you’ll find a simple but beautifully finished shed (it was filled with daffodils when we visited), stunning views and a handwritten A4 sheet of paper detailing the wines on offer and their prices.
There is no cost to do a tasting, and you should taste everything here. For an example of the kind of winery this is, look no further than the sparkling rosé. It’s a delicious combination of chardonnay and pinot noir grapes, fermented in French oak barrels and spending another nine months on lees in the bottle, and made using the Méthode Champenoise.
It’s no slouch and has a considerable pedigree, but the winemakers here call it simply ‘pink fizz’ and say it’s uncomplicated, delicious, and perfect for any time drinking. We agree.
All the wines here are like that. They are made using traditional methods and all possible love and care to emphasize excellent fruit and show it off to its best advantage, but it’s all approachable, unpretentious and damns delicious.
Yarra Valley’s TarraWarra Estate has become one of the region’s must-see destinations. Built on a hill, the winery’s stunning contemporary architecture houses a cellar door, art gallery and restaurant that sits among the estate’s vineyard.
Visit the cellar door where for $5 a person, guests can sample TarraWarra Estate‘s wines with winemaker Clare Halloran. Try cool-climate Chardonnay and Pinot Noir that the winery is known for.
The cellar door, which is cut into a hillside, is designed by Kerstin Thompson Architects and features stoned carved out of a Castlemaine quarry. Inside, the cool polished concrete floors and walls are warmed up with light streaming from large windows and skylights that look like a James Turrell art installation.
Chef Troy Spencer heads up the winery’s restaurant, which uses produce from the kitchen garden and local farms. On weekends and public holidays, the restaurant offers two courses for $60 or three courses for $70. Bookings are recommended, and a private dining room is available to hire out for larger groups.
Visit the TarraWarra Museum of Art before you leave, a privately funded art museum onsite that showcases art by contemporary Australian artists.
Read more at https://www.timeout.com/