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Visiting the Yarra Valley in Australia - recommendations?

Hi, We'll be visiting Australia starting next week, and staying for a night or two at the Balgownie Estate in the Yarra Valley. We'd like recommendations for a couple of wineries to visit that are nearby, and that won't mind a well-behaved 4 year old coming along (she's done this in Napa, no problems). Wine-wise, we're fairly open, although I'm not a big fan of fruity whites - especially the tropical fruits often found in sauv. blancs.

thank you very much in advance for any advice you can give us.

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  1. Yarra Yering is worth a visit. They make pretty good wine, including one of the more extracted Pinot Noirs out there. Not far away is By Farr and Farr Rising in Bannockburn. Great Pinot Noir, Shiraz and Chardonnay

    1 Reply
    1. re: veganhater

      Just a comment on Bannockburn being 'not far away'? It's probably a two and a half hour drive, though that might be close in North American terms.

    2. Yes, Yarra Yering makes some excellent wines. They're cooler than most regions so Pinot Noir has become a specialty here; I also like a lot of Yarra Chardonnays.

      Yarra Yering were one of (if not the) first wineries in the Yarra Valley and has become flagship estate for the region. I also recommend Giant Steps/Innocent Bystander wines, and owner Phil Sexton has quite the complex set up for visitors -- a restaurant, bakery, coffee roastery etc. Giant Steps are for his vineyard-designates, mostly, and Innocent Bystander are larger production blends (often great values).

      Have fun!

      1 Reply
      1. re: originalfig

        I just sent some (winey/foodie) friends to Giant Steps/Innocent Bystander and they had a blast.

      2. Thanks so much to you both for the helpful replies. I'll tip a glass or two in your direction (and veganhater - you're a neighbor of mine, aren't you - at least globally speaking?).

        4 Replies
        1. re: LulusMom

          We are both lucky enough to live in NC. I was happy to see your name on the post. If you do get to see either Farr (Nick or his dad Gary), tell them hello from their Carolina friends they worked with in Burgundy in 02. By the way, Lulu sounds like she has been raised right. I like her taste.

          1. re: veganhater

            Sorry that I didn't make it to Farr to pass along your message. And yes, Lulu has been raised to eat pretty much everything. When our friends brought along a picnic to share the wines, Lulu's first choice was the lovely black olives and the blue cheese.

            1. re: LulusMom

              It's good to see some people have enough care to give their kids an option that is not chicken mcnuggets. Our youngest loves black olives and it gives me immense pleasure to watch him gorge on something so healthy that so many kids won't touch. I think our son is too young for Lulu (3.5), but if she gets desperate he loves girls with good taste for food and wine. Enjoy the rest of your trip if it isn't over yet.

              1. re: veganhater

                Lulu, I'm guessing, would forgo the older man in order to find a date with similar tastes. Tonight she had a bowl of black olives as a starter (seriously, her favorite food) and then polenta dusted calamari for her main. She was delighted. The vanilla creme brulee put her over the top. I must, however, admit that she also loves to indulge in a bag of salt and vinegar crisps whenever we're in pub-heavy places. So, if your son isn't put off by that, lets talk in about 12 years.

                Another great meal tonight. Bistrot d'Orsay in Melbourne on Collins. Husband and I both had trout with a light horseradish beet sauce and rocket greens to start, then he had salmon - very old school french, and i had pasta with seafood. it is a wet wet wet day down here, although cooler than usual. The wines at this place by the glass were phenomenal. We're off to Auckland tomorrow ... touring NZ with a 5 week stay in Wellington. if anyone happens to be reading this and has advice about NZ, it would be very gratefully accepted!

                PS - Lulu has never seen a chicken nugget in her life, and only this week (in the middle of NSW where there weren't many other options) had McDonalds.

        2. When you get to the Valley find the tourist office and pick up the brochure that has a list of all the wineries and a map with locations (your hotel may have one available as well). This will show where all the big name wineries and small boutique producers are, just about every major wine area in Aus produces a similar brochure and they are invaluable in helping to navigate the areas.

          My tip is to avoid the big names and head for the smaller more bespoke places, the biggies like Domaine Chandon and De Bortoli will have quite commercial cellar doors, often set up for tourist coaches. A smaller place like Yarra Yering will be more intimate, and other smaller less famous ones will probably see you served by the owner/wine maker.

          If you want good food I would reverse the advice, with some of the bigger producers now running good restaurants in great settings i.e Chandon, Bortoli, Giant Steps etc. I am far from an expert on Yarra Valley so can't recommend individual wineries but don't worry about Lulu kids will be welcome at all the cellar doors.

          4 Replies
          1. re: PhilD

            Thanks PhilD. We've spent a lot of time in Napa/Sonoma, so we figured that the smaller places probably would be nicer and have a good atmo, but we also know they don't all have great wines. Appreciate everyone's help on this. Yarra Yering sounds like a must.

            Probably somewhat weirdly, Lulu is obsessed by Pinot Noir (which she calls Peanut Duvoir). She has asked for a bottle for her fifth birthday. Needless to say, she won't be getting one.

            1. re: LulusMom

              You underestimate Lulu, closer questioning will reveal she wants to cellar top burgundies for 10 to 12 years. She will then sell these to significantly augment her college fund.

              1. re: PhilD

                Laughing! Could be a hint of truth in that since her father is an economist, and probably teaching her things like that on the side.

            2. re: PhilD

              If you've got an iPhone, the government tourism organization has released a free app of their wineries regions brochure at http://itunes.apple.com/au/app/the-wi...

              It misses a few of the smaller wineries, but has otherwise pretty good coverage.

            3. Cellar doors in Yarra Valley are pretty mediocre unless you go off the beaten track to Seville area so enjoy the tastings and food rather than buying wine. You can buy it in the city cheaper and there are no special cellar door offers (unlike the Coonawarra, which does)

              I haven't been for a couple of years but heard Giant Steps is great and very friendly. The two places in the GFG are Bella Vedere and Eleonores at Chateau Yering. Both are from the napkin school of fine dining, Eleonores very much so. I wouldn't recommend either to you for your needs.

              Of the bigger places, I like Chandon (interesting tour) and Yering Station (nice architect designed buildings). Food not bad at Station.

              The place that hovers on the edge of the GFG is the very impressive Healesville Hotel. There are also associated food shops with some fantastic produce, as well as a handmade pasta shop. Healesville is also the home of the Healesville Sanctuary which is the best place to see Australian animals - only place I have seen a platypus!

              Finally, Yarra Valley Dairy is a cheese company that does tastings of cheese and wine. They do some great goats cheeses which are Melbourne posh grocery staples. Worth a look if you are in the area.

              3 Replies
              1. re: mr_gimlet

                Oh, I like the dairy idea very much - thank you.

                Anyone know anything about dining at Balgownie? We were hoping to do that so that driving (or holding back) wasn't an issue.

                We are currently in Canberra, Lulu with a stomach virus and me sitting drinking martinis in the room while LulusDad has dinner at the corner wine bar (my choice to stay in, no nastiness). The thought of her feeling better, all of us enjoying what I imagine is a lovely drive, and us adults having some good wine is very appealing. Thanks again to everyone for the help.

                1. re: LulusMom

                  I'm sure Balgownie is fine. If it isn't great food, that's what wine's for! Seriously, there are lots of mid level places in the Yarra Valley and I'm sure it's fine.

                  1. re: mr_gimlet

                    Thanks Mr. G. I really do appreciate the help.

              2. We ended up at Yarra Yering (sp?) and bought a bottle of the pinot noir after a tasting. Gorgeous spot. Also tried a place called Boat O'Craigo (husband's name is Craig, it was on the way and they said there were usually kangaroos in the vineyard so it seemed like a gimmee). We liked their wine a lot, bought a couple of bottles of chardonnay. We're leaving tomorrow for NZ, so couldn't bring too many bottles along. We've managed (with the help of friends) to drink 2 of the bottles. We also really liked the Balgownie wines (and it is a lovely place to stay). thanks to everyone for the help.

                2 Replies
                1. re: LulusMom

                  Great! Thanks for reporting back.

                  1. re: LulusMom

                    So glad you are having a great trip and that Yarra Yering worked for you! Thanks for the feedback...and enjoy the rest of your trip!

                  2. We are heading to Melbourne near Christmas time, and wondering whether there are any updates.
                    Also, will most wineries be closed Dec. 25 through Jan. 1? (sorry for being ignorant)

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: KarenDW

                      You'd think so, but actually not. Reason being that Xmas Day is a good reason to open if you have a restaurant - winery xmas lunches seem pretty popular based on a straw poll of my office.

                      Then Boxing Day is the first day of the cricket, and there are lots on non-fans with cricket tragics who want something to so. Hence, most tourist attractions are actually open.

                      I wouldn't bet on all being open, but I bet many will be - especially if they sell food. I'd suggest emailing the Yarra Valley tourist information ina month or so

                      1. re: mr_gimlet

                        Hi again, Mr. G.
                        Thanks for the reply. We arrive in MEL around the 20th, hoped to do one quick excursion out before Family Time, and another after. Might do a coach or other driver-provided tour.

                    2. We chartered the 8 person "wine Bus". It was expensive so we needed 8 paying customers. Upside was not tasting and driving. We visited 4 different Yarra valley wineries with tastings included plus lunch. One stop included Chandon.