Recently I spent the weekend in Melbourne, Australia’s second largest city. During the weekend, I headed out to the Yarra Valley, about an hour to the north-east, for a day trip to the world-class wineries in the region. It was a glorious day, with record-breaking cold temperatures and thick fog in the early morning (it was still about 2C at 10:30am when we arrived at our first destination), that fined up to one of magnificent blue skies and bright sunshine for the afternoon. While a Yarra Valley winery trip can be expensive (mainly based on how much wine you buy!), it can still be affordable if you follow these tips.
1. Self-Drive, with Care
The easiest option for a winery trip is to book onto a bus tour, but this is often quite an expensive option. The cheaper option is to self-drive, either with your own car or a rental car, for about $50 for the day. Grab a map of the wine region before-hand or from the first winery you visit, then head to whichever wineries you want. Just be careful that whoever is driving either skips most of the tasting, or is spitting. It’s also a good idea for everyone to take your time.
2. Visit the Smaller Wineries
In Australia, wine-tasting is usually complementary, although some of the larger, more popular wineries are beginning to charge. At both Domaine Chandon and De Bortoli, there was a $5 per person charge, redeemable against most purchases. And unfortunately, just because you’re paying doesn’t mean there are necessarily more people helping with the wine tasting!
To avoid the crowds and charges, head to some of the smaller wineries. There you’ll get more personalised attention, often from the winemaker themselves, although you usually feel obligated to buy at least one bottle. An interesting small winery to visit is Dixon Creek Estate, with owner Graeme Miller, which also has superb views of the valley. Alternatively, if you don’t intend to buy anything, because you’re just about to fly out, you may feel comfortable paying a small fee and then not buying any wine.
3. Have a Picnic or Try a Platter
Most wine regions have a great range of restaurants, located either at the wineries themselves or in the region. However, prices can be quite high, and if visiting on the weekend they can be rather busy, and require a booking (which we found at at Innocent Bystander in Healesville). Usually it’s better value to graze on a tasting platter, from a local producer that is selling their own produce. Yarra Valley Dairy does great-value cheese platters for $32 (as of 2015). Alternatively, put together a picnic either before you leave for the day, or from the goods on sale at cellar doors and local farmers markets, then enjoy it in the picnic grounds at some of the wineries. The Yarra Valley Farmers Market is held the 3rd Sunday of each month at Yering Station.
4. Look out for Cellar Door Specials
Most wineries will have wines for sale that are only available at the cellar door. Often, these can be excellent bargains, especially shortly before they release their new season wines in the spring. Alternatively, discounts are usually given if you buy in bulk, or sign up to be a wine club member, with regular deliveries of wine throughout the year. Enquire for delivery prices, if you’re not driving your own car, which may even be included in the price if you buy in bulk.
My Winery Recommendations
- Yering Station (38 Melba Highway, Yarra Glen) for wine tasting and the farmers markets
- Domaine Chandon (727 Maroondah Highway, Coldstream) for wine tasting, especially their sparkling wine
- Dixons Creek Estate (1620 Melba Highway, Dixons Creek) for wine tasting and views
- Yarra Valley Dairy (70–80 McMeikans Road, Yering) for cheese tasting and platters
Visiting the Yarra Valley with a Dog?
If you’re travelling with a dog, you’re in luck as some of the wineries allow dogs to join you. Check out this list of dog friendly wineries. There’s even a dog-friendly bus tour option! For more dog-friendly recommendations, check out this guide.
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