Yarra Valley Wine Region in Victoria

By Jeni Port
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The Yarra Valley is a wine producing area of world renown

The Yarra Valley is a wine producing area of world renown

Dominant White Grapes: chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, riesling
Dominant Red Grapes: pinot noir, cabernet sauvignon, merlot
Principal Wine Styles: sparklings of finesse; rich, textural chardonnay; clean, fruit-filled pinot noir, elegant cabernet sauvignon and shiraz

How many wine regions in Australia can produce top-flight wines right across the board from sparkling to chardonnay and pinot noir through to cabernet sauvignon and shiraz? None - with one exception.

The Yarra Valley can and the answer lies in the wind and the dirt and a range of other climatic factors that make this region undeniably special. This is a cool wine growing area generally considered cooler than Bordeaux but warmer than Burgundy with a range of sub-regional climates. The further north you go the (relatively) warmer and drier it becomes while the further south it gets cooler and wetter.

The wine making pioneers of Victoria, the Ryrie brothers, must have intuitively grasped all of this back in 1838 when the first vines in the colony were planted at Yering in what we now call the Yarra Valley. By the 1850s the Ryrie properties were sold to two Swiss families, the de Castellas and the de Purys, and the birth of a great wine district had begun. These two families and their Swiss vineyard workers would help build an impressive reputation for the district. However, by the 1920s the economic tide had turned with land becoming more important for grazing than grapes. The wine industry went into decline.

Modern Yarra Valley history begins in the 1960s with the revival of St. Hubert's and Yeringberg wineries and the birth of small boutiques led by passionate wine men like John Middleton, Bailey Carrodus and Peter McMahon. Today, there are around 100 wineries with 84 opening for cellar door sales.

The Valley boasts a range of sub-regional climates and soils producing (as you might expect) a range of chardonnay styles. Grapes grown in the cooler areas tend to be snapped up for sparklings, leaving the (relatively) warmer spots suited to table wines that are rich and generous. Bright lemon, white peach, nectarine and melon flavors are abundant in the glass.

Chardonnay's soul mate in the Valley is pinot noir. Together they form the basis of tightly-structured sparklings of real delicacy. Pinot noir as a table wine is supremely suited to Valley conditions producing two distinct styles. One is a charming and lively fruit-driven wine full of cherries, raspberries and strawberries. Delicious. The other is deliberately more complex with dark fruits, plums, black cherries and forest floor characters.

During the 1970s and 80s, cabernet sauvignon carried the Valley's reputation far and wide with makers like Mount Mary, Yarra Yering and Yeringberg producing outstanding wines. Valley cabernet is supremely elegant with tobacco leaf, spice and blackberry flavours and fine silky tannins. And when it comes to age-ability, the runs are already there on the board.

For many years, Yarra Valley makers (with the exception of Bailey Carrodus) didn't think shiraz was suited to the Valley's cooler climate. Peter McMahon at Seville Estate broke the ice in the 1980s with a stunning wine and the grape was off and running. The style can be intensely peppery in the cooler vintages and is always generously spicy. The recent trend of adding a splash of the white grape viognier to Valley shiraz has raised the bar again with makers deliberately seeking a Rhone Valley style.

The area to the north of the Yarra Valley from Marysville across to Yea and up to Mansfield takes in the Upper Goulburn wine region. This is a relatively recent wine growing district with Delatite established in 1968, Murrundindi in 1977 and more recent arrivals Lost Valley Wines and Tallarook in the mid-1990s. Each of these major producers looks to a distinctive wine style. With Delatite it's riesling while Murrindindi is best known for its chardonnay. Lost Valley has pioneered the Italian white grape cortese and Tallarook is gaining a name with its excellent marsanne.

© Jeni Port 2006

(excerpt from The Age, September 16, 2006)

Regions

  • Upper Goulburn (VIC)
  • Yarra Valley (Wine) (VIC)

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