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Yarra Valley wines: key characteristics and history


As the largest and most diverse cool-climate wine region in Australia, it’s tough to narrow the Valley down to just one or two defining characteristics. What you can say is that:

  • The great wines are world-class examples of cool-climate varietals like Pinot and Chardonnay;
  • The Southern “Upper” Yarra is now definitely preferred for Chardonnay and Pinot;
  • The best Shiraz and Cabernet wines are notable for their softness, intensity of perfume, suppleness and longevity;
  • Some of the greatest winemakers and wine estates have their homes there;
  • The wine “culture” is intelligent and innovative; and
  • It is one of the most beautiful environments on earth.

When someone mentions the Yarra Valley, the pictures that come to mind in most people would be “wine, green, historic, busy, cool, pretty, trendy, good restaurants, tour companies, complicated, diverse”.

And they would be right about all of this, but it’s a fairly general picture, and it doesn’t help the average wine lover find the best wineries in the Yarra Valley, nor does it help them understand the amazing diversity of the Valley area and what a treasure trove of wine fascination it can be if they know where and how to look.

The Yarra Valley was established originally in the 1850s but lapsed on and off for decades until, in the early 70s, it began to grow into a serious, and seriously appreciated, wine region, from which it has never looked back.

All of which suggests that a brief guide to this lovely place might be of value to you, our treasured customer and welcome member of our family.

“This wine doesn’t taste anything like the wine from just over there!”

The first thing to understand is that the wine from our vineyard can be completely different from the wine my neighbour makes up the hill, even as little as 50 metres away.

We’ll explore this in a bit more detail as we go along, but consider this: if your Pinot vineyard is planted on a north-facing hill, it will receive say 100 units of sunshine during the growing season; if it’s planted on the south side of the same hill, it’s going to receive around 60 units. It will also receive different rainfall; and different winds for different periods. It will have a different soil profile and be more prone to disease, and in need of different spraying treatment; it will mature later and therefore have a different ripening period.

All of this can add up to a different wine structure, acidity, flavour profile, liveliness, alcohol content and much besides.

In France, the famous vineyards of Domaine de la Romanee Conti in the village of Vosne Romanee in Burgundy illustrate this perfectly: one bottle of the most recently-released “Romanee Conti” will cost you $A 25,000 or more; walk down the hill South two hundred metres and there you will find the Premier Cru vineyard of “Aux Boudots”, where a bottle will cost you around $A 200. Some difference.

Microclimates in the Yarra Valley

The point of this is just to note that in a large area like the Valley, there are scores of different environments and micro-climates that will each produce different wine from the same varieties, some gorgeous and many pedestrian. There are also many non-traditional grape varieties in use, like Marsanne and Nebbiolo, which complicates your job even more. And the “traditional” Northern Valley areas of Coldstream, Gruyere, Steel’s Creek, Healesville and Yarra Glen are in a quite different climatic zone than the “upper” Southern regions of Wandin, Seville, Hoddles Creek, Woori Yallock, Gladesdale and Warburton which are distinctly higher and cooler.

Key characteristics

You could say that finding common features of all Valley wines is next to impossible, and that all we can do is look at the area like we would look at dart boards-as a series of distinct areas where the tiny centre is a quality “10”, with progressive decline as you move outward. You also need to remember that many wineries, especially in the traditional Valley, now produce wine from fruit from many different Valley areas, indeed different regions and even states. You need to read labels with care.

If we were to look for one common factor, however, I would say it’s moderation: the wines are never over-flavoured, over-oaked, or too tannic, or too acid; just well balanced, stylish, refined and delightfully complex.

Good luck with your Valley adventures! Of course, if you are looking to dip your toe into the wines of the Yarra Valley, don't hesitate to sample our offering here at Wild Fire Wines. We guarantee you won't be disappointed.

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