Our first winery stop was Innocent Bystander in Healesville, a bustling restaurant and shop with a wine tasting area near the front door. They offered a free tasting that was ok but not really memorable, mostly their everyday varietals that are available in the U.S. Thinking there had to be more interesting wines available, we decided to split the $10 tasting of their Giant Steps wines. “Do you mind heights?” asked the cashier. After answering “No,” we were taken across the operations floor catwalk to the barrel room where Morgan was running the tasting.
In Australia, tasting rooms are referred to as ‘cellar doors’; unlike most, the tasting in this barrel room definitely had a cellar feel to it with a cool air temperature and dimmer lighting.
We really enjoyed the Giant Steps tasting and learned about some of the climatic and geographic differences in the valley through their single vineyard designates. All were enjoyable but The ‘Tarraford Vineyard’ Chardonnay and Pinot Noir were our favorites. The restaurant was packed, so we purchased a baguette and Scottish cheddar for a snack and dinner later.
Oakridge Wines had been highly recommended so we made that our next destination. They have a nice setting with a patio looking out over the vineyard and they also offer a free tasting. During our visit, there were two separate (and lively) birthday parties for women in their 90s! The wines were grouped into three categories, 864 Single Block (very expensive and not open for tasting), Local Vineyard Series (mid-range) and “Over the Shoulder” (every day). Leandra liked the 2010 Shiraz the best, but was generally unimpressed with the reds. While they did have some nice chardonnays from single vineyards, we weren’t as interested in their selections. Our wine pourer was very nice and we talked tennis and warnings of black flies along the Great Ocean Road.
Next, we made a brief stop at Punt Road Winery primarily to try their apple and pear ciders. Since they were also pouring wines, Eric tried the Pinot Gris and a Viognier and Leandra sampled the the sparkling and a rose. The pear cider was more flavorful than the apple so Leandra bought one bottle for later, but the wines were unremarkable.
The day was quite warm and we were tiring out a bit, so we decided to make our way back to the B&B for some rest. On the way we stopped at the Yarra Valley Dairy for a small piece of Stilton to go with our bread from Innocent Bystander.
After an hour break we decided to go for one last tasting of the day at nearby Yering Station.
This vineyard produces a wide variety of wines, both red and white, so we both found plenty to try. Even though we arrived near the end of the day, the pourers were very friendly and didn’t try to rush us out of there. Eric really enjoyed their whites, especially their chardonnays and Leandra liked the ‘Village’ Pinot Noir. We found most everything we tried drinkable and a good value.
On our way back to our room Leandra successfully navigated a four-way, two-lane roundabout with train tracks through the center of town – we don’t see those in the US very often!
Monday morning we figured we had time for one winery before we left town, so we took the back road to De Bortoli.
We really enjoyed our wine tasting here ($5 refundable with purchase), especially their ‘quirky’ whites and ‘posh’ reds. Leandra found the Pinot Noirs to be a little on the acidic side, but really liked the Melba Lucia (cab/sangiovese blend). Eric found a winner with the Reserve Release EZ, a white blend of riesling, gewurztraminer and pinot gris. The tasting concluded splendidly with the dessert wines — the tawny port had a gorgeous praline flavor but the stand-out was their flagship dessert wine, Noble One, a sweet botrytis semillion. A shaded patio near the entrance made a great place to sit so we took a few minutes to have a snack and plan our route to Melbourne.
Our limited time in Yarra Valley was one of the standouts of the trip — we loved the relaxed, friendly atmosphere of the area, and we enjoyed tasting the range of wines.