As you may know, I’m a big fan of wine … so after moving to Melbourne, the Yarra Valley was high on my list of places to visit. Having found a group of likeminded friends and a nice place to stay, we were off for the weekend!
The particular weekend we picked was going to be one of those crazy hot ones that were pretty common this summer, with temperatures reaching over 40 degrees. Some of the group had signed up to go possum spotting, but I had decided to forgo the woodland and mosquitos in favour of an evening by the barbecue with wine …
So, we arrived on Friday night loaded up with snacks and meat for the barbecue. We were staying at a place called Serenity @ Healesville, which was a beautiful, huge house – I claimed organiser’s privilege and took the nice ensuite bedroom with a big, claw-foot bath tub! Sadly I didn’t get to use it though, it was just too hot.
The house was ginormous, with three huge living rooms, and enough space to sleep eleven people. There was a nice big fridge in the open plan kitchen, which was already half stocked with beers and cider from the other group who had headed out to find possums. Once we added our supplies and it was pretty jam packed …
After we settled in and got the snacks out, it was time to chill outside and watch the sun set over the garden – wonderful. Silvio got the burgers going, the beers came out, and then so did the mozzies … luckily Kate produced some pretty effective bug spray, as I usually get eaten alive otherwise.
Later in the evening, all of us little bit tipsy, it was the perfect time to play one of my favourite card games, known as Cards Against Humanity. It’s terrible and hilarious, and Tom has enough expansion packs to last … well, at least a weekend.
The possum spotters were late home, and we were ready to head off to bed and get a good night’s sleep before hitting the wineries! Yay for wine!
The main living room in the house had a good supply of maps and leaflets, so we picked a winery a bit of a drive away to start from, and were a couple of routes back where we could stop and continue the sampling. The sun was already beating down on us as we arrived at Yileena Park, we were grateful for the cool, dark, air conditioned room upstairs!
We got off to a good start with some delicious sparkling wines, while the owner Dianne explained some of the workings of the vineyard. They have underground irrigation for their vines, which had helped keep them watered during the insanely hot summer days this year, and also protected their plants during the bushfires, although they lost the crop from the smoke. The sheep ate them instead.
We tried a beautiful reserve Cabernet, which despite the $60 price tag was so good that several of us bought a bottle or two.
After the dessert wines – which I was not so keen on at the start of the weekend – Dianne produced some special smoked food, produced using wood chips from old wine barrels, including strangely delicious merlot infused salt which we bought too!
As we left, Dianne handed us a leaflet for the smaller wineries of the Yarra Valley, most of which weren’t featured on the main map. There was a special offer where if we purchased a dozen bottles from at least two wineries, we would be able to get one free, which seemed like a pretty good deal – and quite likely too!
We changed our plan for the day to head to another small winery not too far away. This time there was one gentleman behind the counter, who seemed a bit overwhelmed by our large group, particularly when a hen party came in ten minutes later!
From the tasting room we could see down to the wine storage room, barrels and barrels of wine. Magda fell in love with the Pinot Gris and bought a caseful, I continued to indulge with the Chardonnay and Tom and Kate added to their collection too … then we were off again, this time to one of the larger wineries: De Bortoli, where there was also tasty cheese on offer.
The grounds at De Bortoli were absolutely stunning, brightly coloured flowers and loads of green, all helped by the lovely sunshine.
After two tastings, some people had had enough and went straight for the cheese, but Tom, Kate, Jen and I were still going strong. The wines were pretty good, but the tastings were much less personal than in the smaller wineries – there was not much explanation of the wine or the vineyard, we just had a taste poured then left on our own. Silvio brought me a piece of the cheese, which made the wine taste even more amazing … mmm, my mouth still waters at the memory while I’m writing …
We followed the tasting with more cheese, sitting outside in the sunshine, and some very special anchovies (they should be too, at $15 a tin …!) Or as Tom called them, salty eyebrows.
Half of the group decided to head back to the house after that, but the more determined among us – including me – felt that we had one more winery in us at least, so off we went to Allinda, back on the small winery trail again, run by Al and Linda.
I don’t know if the wine starts to taste better after I’ve had that many, some say that you can’t tell anymore after two or three tastes anyway (but why stop when it’s so much fun?) Either way, the wine at Allinda was delicious, and we bought several bottles including Chardonnay and a more unusual Savagnin, as well as some red, it was too good not to! I also began to appreciate dessert wines more, and we had enough stamps now for a free bottle – so we took one back for that evening.
Before heading back, it would have been sad to miss the Yarra Valley Chocolaterie, especially since they were selling ice cream too …
I asked for one scoop in a cone, well that was the largest scoop of ice cream I have ever seen. We wandered around the chocolate shop finishing our ice cream, I was very tempted … but we had indulged enough for one day.
We stopped for groceries on the way home, Tom had offered to cook for everybody but was looking for inspiration in the supermarket. He found it with some pork belly, and we stocked up on veggies and flavourings, and got some prawns to cook as well.
Back at the house, we sampled some of the wine and some G&Ts, Kate and Tom prepared the food for dinner, and then we watched the sun go down over the garden … fabulous.
With a little more wine, the Cards Against Humanity soon came out again with the entire group this time – once again, it was hilarious, far too many cards played that are very unsuitable for my blog …
Then it was time for dinner – wow! There was piles of food, soft, tender pork belly, salad with feta, potatoes, veggies, and all of it tasted amazing, we were spoiled. It was a long, lazy meal finished off with the dessert wine, and finally collapsing into our big comfy bed.
On Sunday, we were allowed a late checkout, so we could hang around the house until 3pm – wonderful. Rob and Jen had frozen some bananas to try and make a kind of healthy banana ice-cream, but not peeling them before freezing turned out to be a bit of an error … I believe it tasted pretty good in the end though.
Most people were happy to stick around the house, but Andy, Tom, Kate and I were up for a bit more tasting, so we headed off to “just one winery, maybe two”. Boat O’Craigo was just a couple of minutes’ drive from the house, so we started out there – they also had some lovely looking food, I almost wished we’d come there instead of eating at the house.
I was under strict orders from Silvio not to buy any more wine – “We don’t have space in the car for any more! Let alone at the flat …” – so I felt slightly guilty, but the Cabernet was so lovely, and they also had an unusual white Gewürztraminar which was rather nice …
Badgers Creek was also really close, so we stopped by there – it was a very small tasting room in lovely grounds, with a restaurant attached too. They had a delicious rose, well, I was already going to be in trouble, in for a penny in for a pound, as they say.
The trouble was, I still hadn’t found a really good chardonnay to take home … and it wasn’t all that far to Yering Farm, so … whoops, just one last stop.
Yering Farm was my favourite of all the wineries. As we arrived, the first thing we were offered was some very special Pink Lady Syder – it was actually pink, icy cold, and really delicious, cider made within pink lady apples.
We moved slowly through the white wines, and I finally found my chardonnay! Unfortunately, it was a reserve one, but wow, it was so delicious, how can I resist? As we moved on through the reds, the owner took a glass of the recently opened cabernet, shook it up and showed us how different it smells and tastes afterwards.
The tasting concluded with a deliciously lemony dessert wine, I really want to make a lemony desert to try with it now …
We all left Yering Farm quite a lot more weighed down than we had arrived, I had entirely given up on resisting any purchasing, oh well. It’s not as though any of it will go to waste
Back at the house, we were starting to get packed up and ready to go. We dragged the hose out to wash the worst of the dust off of our rental cars, and packed up – Silvio was right about the lack of space in our car, luckily Andy had offered to take some of the excess wine back for us!
We went home via the Coldstream Brewery, where I managed to forget to order Silvio’s pizza, and without realising, he ate Tom’s instead … oops. There was a fair bit of food, and nice ciders, so I don’t think he went too hungry! After dropping off Tom and Kate in Brunswick, all that was left was to head back to Prahran and cart all of our own purchases up to the flat!
If there’s one thing that I learned from that weekend, it was the difference that it makes when you get the right wine with the right food (oh yes and I also discovered that I like a good cabernet!). That’s something I’d love to know more about … for now, I’m just enjoying the taste of a nice steak or some strong cheese with one of the many bottles of yummy red that we brought back, and feeling very lucky and spoilt!