Yarra Valley GI Region (with the zone of Port Phillip)
Despite the history of viticulture going as far back as the 1830's, the Yarra Valley wine region has really only been established as we know it today since the late 1960's (around 1921 the growth of fortified production led to the demise of grape growing in the region). The climate is generally cool, with significant variation due to a broad range in altitude (50m - 400metres).
The topography is varied, almost as much as anywhere in Australia and because of this sub-regional definition is important. Two basic soil types exist: grey-brown loamy sand to clay loam with red clay sub-soils on the north side of the valley (Lower Yarra, such as Dixons Creek); deep and fertile red volcanic soil on the southern side of the valley (Upper Yarra such as Hoddles Creek). Red varieties dominate 65% (Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz, and Merlot) over whites 35% (Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc).
Our group had arrived at the RACV Club in Healesville late on the Friday evening, so were given a slightly later start time of 9am the following morning. We met Steve Flamsteed, the head winemaker at Giant Steps / Innocent Bystander for coffee and pastries at the cellar door prior to a tour of their ‘urban’ winery. It was evident that small facilities and attention to detail has made for a very smart operation.
As a way of clarifying the link between the brands, owner Phil Sexton set up Innocent Bystander to produce volume across a range of vineyards in the Yarra Valley region (some 70,000 cases). In addition the Giant Steps label has a focus on single vineyard sites, portraying distinct expression from the land. The wines made under this label are vinified with minimal intervention, relying on indigenous organisms originating from each vineyard. Mea Culpa is a third label produced at these facilities.
Our first master class was all things Pinot Noir. We had eight wines in the bracket and all were so very different. All wines possessed varietal definition and site specific characters and a few wines displayed definitive winemaking characters. It quality of the 2012 vintage certainly shone through in this bracket of wines. The standouts for me included:
- Giant Steps Gladysdale Vineyard Pinot Noir 2012 $45rrp
- Oakridge Wines Willowlake Vineyard Pinot Noir 2012 $36rrp
- De Bortoli Riorret The Abbey Pinot Noir 2012 $42rrp
Our next visit was to Oakridge Vineyard for a Chardonnay master class, followed by a tour, sampling from tanks and barrels and lunch in the superb newish restaurant. The facilities at this winery are now second to none from the cellar door, through to the private dining / conference room and restaurant. The views take in the surrounding vineyards and light fills every internal space. Not unlike the earlier master class, the selection of Chardonnay (one 2011 vintage and the remainder 2012) was very impressive. Again site selection, and with that elevation, shone through in the wines. The top picks for me included:
- De Bortoli Estate Grown Chardonnay 2012 @$25rrp
- Giant Steps Sexton Vineyard Chardonnay 2012 $40rrp
- Oakridge Wines Lusatia Park Vineyard Chardonnay 2012 $36rrp
- Punt Road Chardonnay 2012 $25rrp
The tasting was followed by a tour by Marty Singh (one of the winemakers) and some really interesting sampling of wine from barrel and tank. We then returned to the restaurant for a lovely lunch and the opportunity to try the 864 Chardonnay 2009; Pinot Noir 2012 and Cabernet Sauvignon 2006. These wines are only produced in the best vintages from the finest single vineyards, and as such only available in small quantities. These wines commanded attention and had time on their side.
Post lunch we headed to Punt Road to attend a Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon master class with Ben Payten (winemaker) and Peter Shortis (marketing & sales) from Punt Road and Sandra de Pury (winemaker) from Yeringberg. All but one wine was from the 2012 vintage and this bracket of wines was hugely exciting. The quality of fruit, varietal and regional expression and length on the palate will surely convert some wine drinkers to cooler climate Shiraz! Standouts to me were the following:
- De Bortoli La Boheme Shiraz Gamay 2012 $20rrp
- Punt Road Shiraz 2012 $25rrp
- Yeringberg Shiraz 2012 $60
- Giant Steps Mea Culpa Shiraz 2012 $60
- Oakridge Whitsend Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 $36rrp
- Giant Steps Harry’s Monster Bordeaux Blend 2012 $55
- Yeringberg Bordeaux Blend 2005 $75 rrp
The evening was spent at ‘Locale’ Restaurant at De Bortoli Winery, in which host Andrew Bretherton (winemaker for De Bortoli) and Suzanne Tyzack (business & marketing for Innocent Bystander / Giant Steps) ensured we had a lovely relaxed evening. All in all it was a very long day in the Yarra Valley and we were in for an early start the following day to arrive in the King Valley by 10am. Despite this the visit was brilliant in which the evidence of a wine region working together on a common goal was very clear. Mutual support, recommendations amongst winemakers and genuine excitement about the last three vintages in the Yarra Valley added to the experience.
With close proximity to Melbourne and the wealth of cellar doors, accommodation and venues to dine, the Yarra Valley is truly a global tourist destination. I am already planning my next visit back to the region!