Sunday, March 22, 2009

Yarra Valley Wine and Wineries

The picture-book region of Victoria's Yarra Valley is one of Australia's most well-known and loved wine regions. The Burgundian varieties of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir perform particularly well.

The Yarra Valley wineries had it, lost it and now has it again; a wine producing area of international renown it began its jilted journey in 1837 when three brothers, William, James and Donald Ryrie established a cattle property Yering Station. They planted vines; an act recorded as the first vineyard planting in Victoria. A few years later immigrants from Switzerland and Germany settled in the area. They planted commercial quantities of wine grape and established wineries. Among them St Huberts, Yering and Yerinberg produced wines to international acclaim and anchored the Yarra Valley's reputation in the 1800s.

Then came the depression of the 1890s. It was a major factor in the region's decline along with other factors such as the consumer shift to fortifieds. By the 1920s the last winery ceased operations. The industry was resuscitated by medical doctors in the 1960s who caught the markets' return to table wines. Mount Mary vineyard established by Dr John Middleton was a pioneer of the second wave. The third wave came in the 1980s with the arrival of James Halliday, de Bortoli and the prestigious Moet & Chandon.

Unlike the end of the 19th century, the end of the 20th century was marked by phenomenal growth. Hundreds of hectares came under the vine and millions were invested in Yarra Valley wineries and tourist facilities.

The Yarra Valley wine region is in the Port Phillip Zone. The region borders on the towns of Emerald and Cockatoo to the south. The Plenty River marks the western boundary and the Yarra River which begins in the region's east, flows through its centre on the its way to Melbourne. Most properties are centred round the towns of Coldstream, Healesville and Yarra Glen and the historic Lilydale. The valley is surrounded by the Great Dividing Range east, Plenty Ranges west and Dandenongs south. Altitude range: 50 - 400m.

The climate is cool. Frost is a problem as are strong cold winds. The region gets a lot of rain, but not sufficient just prior to harvest in March necessitating some irrigation.

The soils are grey-brown loams to the south and red volcanic soils to the north and west.

Red varieties planted include Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Pinot Noir and Shiraz. White varieties include Chardonnay, Gewurztraminer, Semillon, Marsanne, Riesling and a rare planting of Verduzzo, an Italian variety.

The one hour drive time from Melbourne, the many cellar doors, historical interest, beauty and culinary reputation attract thousands of Melburnians and others each year. Major events include the Grape Grazing Festival and Jazz in the Vines both held in March.

Harvest time: late March to late May