There are well over 100 wineries in the Yarra Valley as a whole. There are wines from many properties that make perfectly excellent drinking. What follows are notes regarding my personal favourites, and those renowned as the best wineries in the Yarra Valley. With 50 years of experience drinking them, hopefully I’ve picked up a thing or two!
An explanation first. “Terroir” is a French word that refers to the overall position, climate, soil and weather of a particular place. In wine advertisements and reviews these days you often see references to wines being “accurately reflecting their terroir” or some such. It used to be, and still is in some cases (Penfolds) that wine producers sought to make and blend wine to a “style” for which the brand had become known. Such wines aren’t true to terroir although some of them (Grange, for example) are very fine indeed.
Our wines, and those of many small-medium houses in the Valley today, are made so as to produce the most authentic possible reflection of their fruit without exaggeration, additives, blending, yeast coloration, over-extraction or other unnatural influences.
But some winemakers do play tricks. Go to the on-line catalogue of any supplier of winery products and you’ll find scores of additives to influence colour, mouthfeel, acidity, stability, oak character, tannins, juice extraction levels at the press and so on almost ad infinitum.
The underlying idea of “terroir” is to eliminate this interference and leave nothing between the fruit and the glass. You can’t buy a guide which tells you what is authentic and what isn’t-you just have to keep your eyes and ears open and drink a lot!
What we can say however is that integrity, and the concept of terroir-driven production, has always been part of the winemaking culture in the Valley, more so than in many other regions.
So, what does this all mean? The best wineries in the Yarra Valley listed below are those that are true to terroir: they will be the best reflection of their fruit.
Without further ado, here are the best wines and wineries of the Yarra Valley - split into the Upper Yarra and Lower Yarra.
Best Wines of the Upper Yarra Valley
Wild Fire Wines
Needless to say, we are proud to offer a generous list of fine wines, some from our East Warburton vineyard, and some from elsewhere. We are absolutely quality and terroir-driven: no additives other than a little sulphur, natural ferments where practicable, no fining or filtration in most cases. So, our wines are vegan and organic, although we do not have an organic certification.
This vineyard, not far from Seville Estate, produces Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon for Oakridge. The Chardonnay appears as an “864” series single vineyard wine which is in many people’s view the finest Chardonnay in the Valley and perhaps in Australia. It is transparent pale gold, brilliantly perfumed with white flowers, citrus, clover and oatmeal, and full, intense and long in palate.
The Cabernet tends to find its way into different Oakridge blends at different times, which to my mind is tragic: I’ve made wine from this fruit and it is every bit as distinguished as the Chardonnay.
John Funder still has a good supply of Chardonnay and Cabernet for sale at the property from his pre-Oakridge production: mainly from 2007 and 2008 vintages. These wines are excellent and fairly priced.
This is a small vineyard located barely a kilometre from Funder-Diamond. It also sells most of its fruit (Cabernet and Merlot) to Oakridge. It made its own wine until two or three years ago and you can buy back stocks for very reasonable prices. Classic supple, fragrant “Valley”-style wine. Well worth a visit.
Needs no introduction. A wonderful selection of fine wines in the Upper Yarra Style. Top marks for Shiraz.
A larger winery again just down the road from Funder-Diamond. Best for its silky and approachable Cabernet Sauvignon.
Owned and managed by the D’Anna family, Hoddles is a beautifully located and managed property offering a diverse range of high-quality wine at very reasonable prices.
Best Wines of the Lower Yarra Valley
A medium-sized property at Steel’s Creek. In a warm microclimate offering wines of dazzling quality made in a wholly honest, spare-no-cost and authentic way. The picks for me are Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz and Sauvignon Blanc.
This property grows its fruit for Giant Steps. It regularly produces stunning, award-winning Chardonnay and Shiraz under the Giant Steps label. By far the most attractive Giant Steps offerings.
Home of the famous art gallery and restaurant. Some outstanding wines, some commercial. Best are the top-tier Chardonnay and Shiraz.
Has successfully leased several high quality vineyards, most notably Guerin vineyard at Gladesdale and the Funder-Diamond vineyard at Wandin. Probably the best and most consistent white winemaker in the Valley under the direction of David Bicknell. The wines made from the estate fruit are not so distinguished.
A well-managed vineyard near Lilydale owned by the McIntosh family. Excellent viticultural and winemaking standards and a well-graduated list of soundly-made, typical Valley floor wines. Chardonnay and Shiraz are best.
James Halliday established this vineyard in the early 80s. High-ish altitude at the top of Madden’s Lane in Gruyere, located amongst a small outcrop of hills. Halliday has sold his holding, but the winery began and remains a maker of fine Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.
Iconic properties and outstanding wines. No further introduction needed, but a visit to your bank manager will be required - they aren’t the cheapest.
We hope this brief review will orient you better for your continuing exploration of the mighty Yarra Valley wine region.
There is huge complexity, rumour, warfare, glory, competence, achievement, rivalry and subterfuge on the loose here: sharpen your eyes and ears, and most of all, get out there and drink some wine!
Good luck in your great journey discovering the best the Yarra Valley has to offer.
John Harry, Wild Fire Wines