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A Day in Wine Country: The Yarra Valley

The first wine grapes were planted in the Yarra Valley agricultural region east of Melbourne in the mid-1800s, and the appellation has lately matured into one of Australia's top producers of premium wines. The generally cool climate favors the classic Burgundian grapes -- Chardonnay and Pinot Noir -- as well as the production of excellent methode champenoise sparkling wines. Other grapes grown in smaller quantities include Sauvignon Blanc, Gewurztraminer, Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon.

The drive from central Melbourne takes only an hour or so, and dozens of wineries in the area offer "cellar door" tasting and wine sale. More than a few Yarra Valley wineries also have established their own restaurants to entice day-trippers from the city, making it easy to combine a spin through the vineyards with a leisurely midday meal. Good options for a wine country lunch include the following:

 Lillydale Estate  
Lillydale Estate is the Yarra Valley outpost of McWilliam's Wines, one of Australia's largest family-owned producers. Lillydale bottles award-winning wines from two proprietary Yarra Valley vineyards, supplemented with grapes from other top growers in the region. The winery is open daily from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., with selections from the entire McWilliam's line available for tasting and purchase. There's also a fun do-it-yourself barbecue restaurant (open for weekend lunches only) where diners can cook their choice of seafood, meet or poultry at a large communal grill.
Information: Lillydale Estate , +61-3-5964-2016
 De Bortoli 
De Bortoli, another major family-owned producer, maintains extensive vineyard holdings in the Yarra Valley along with a cellar door and restaurant near the town of Yarra Glen. The tasting room and wine shop are open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., offering a wide range of De Bortoli wines from Victoria and elsewhere in Australia, including the highly acclaimed Noble One Botrytis Semillon from the Riverina region of New South Wales. The winery's Italian restaurant is open daily for lunch and Saturdays for dinner, and visitors can sample a range of Australian and imported cheeses from De Bortoli's climate-controlled cheese maturation room.
Information: De Bortoli, +61-3-5965-2271
At Yering Station, where Victoria's first vineyard was planted in 1838, a historic 19th-century winery building rubs shoulders with striking modern architecture and gorgeous landscaping. The estate features a cellar door and tasting room, a produce store, a casual bar serving drinks and light meals, and a more upscale contemporary restaurant with wide-angle views of the surrounding countryside through floor-to-ceiling windows. Yering Station's winemakers produce a range of wines from Yarra Valley grapes, including the well-regarded Yarrabank sparkling wine. The cellar door is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. (6 p.m. on weekends), with lunch served daily in the Wine Bar restaurant.
Information: Yering Station, +61-3- 9730-0100
TarraWarra Estate, an expansive property set on a hillside at the warmer eastern end of the Yarra Valley, offers particularly good views from the modern rammed-earth structure that houses the tasting room and wine shop. Production at this 20-year-old winery remains centered on the two leading grapes of the Yarra Valley appellation, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, and winemaker Clare Halloran has achieved superlative results using all estate-grown fruit. TarraWarra's WineBar Cafe has a choice of indoor tables (with a cozy fireplace burning in winter) and terrace seating that takes full advantage of the view. An adjacent art museum (www.twma.com.au) displays a private collection of contemporary works by Australian artists. The cafe and cellar door are open daily from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Information: TarraWarra Estate, +61-3-5962-3311
Rochford Wines in the Coldstream area has become known as much for its extraordinarily popular restaurant and its rock and soul music concerts as for what goes in the bottle. Daily lunches in the modern glass-walled dining room make creative use of seasonal produce from local farms, with dishes designed to complement Rochford's line of Pinots, Chardonnays, Sauvignon Blancs and other varietals. The cellar door is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. offering Rochford wines from the Yarra Valley and elsewhere in Victoria, and a casual cafe menu with patio seating. Popular music concerts featuring internationally known artists are staged at the winery's open-air lakeside amphitheater.
Information: Rochford Wines , +61-3-5962-2119
At the Balgownie Estate Vineyard Resort and Spa north of Yarra Glen, visitors can enjoy all the elements of a wine country getaway without leaving the property. In addition to a cellar door and fine dining restaurant, Balgownie offers comfortable resort-style accommodations in 65 spacious suites with vineyard views, along with a full-service day spa and fitness center. The tasting room and restaurant feature Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from the Yarra Valley, along with Cabernet, Shiraz and other varietals from Balgownie's original boutique winery in central Victoria. The cellar door is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., with meals served in the restaurant at breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Information: Balgownie Estate, +61-3-9730-0700
Additional Lodging
Other good Yarra Valley lodging options include the historic Yarra Glen Grand Hotel built in 1888 (www.yarraglengrand.com.au, +61-3-9730-1230); Mt. Rael Retreat, a lovely hillside B&B and restaurant outside Healesville (www.mtrael.com.au, +61-3-5962-1977); the Healesville Hotel, with a festive brasserie-style bar and restaurant on the ground floor (www.healesvillehotel.com.au, +61-3-5962-4002); and Sebel Heritage Yarra Valley, a 96-room spa resort with an 18-hole championship golf course designed by Jack Nicklaus (www.mirvachotels.com.au, +61-3-9760-3333).

For general visitor information along with an online booking service for tour operators and hotel and B&B accommodations, go to www.visityarravalley.com.au. Detailed winery profiles are available at www.yarravalleywine.com.



 
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