Nestled in the heart of Victoria, Australia, the Yarra Valley is a wine lover's paradise waiting to be explored. After my recent trip, where my Melbournian friend showed me around, I’m excited to share my favourite spots with you.
As we roamed through the Yarra Valley over two delightful days, it was easy to split the valley into two distinct circuits: the east and the north.
Each spot we went to had something unique to offer. I truly feel we saw the best, or the main highlights that showcases what the valley offers. Whether you want to follow our itinerary or pick and choose your favorites, the Yarra Valley promises a fantastic winery adventure.
In the north easternmost part of the Yarra Valley, you’ll find the quaint little town of Healesville. Surrounding this charming town is green rolling hills and lush forests. You could see the mighty Yarra Ranges in the distance as we approached.
It’s a great location to use as a base with a variety of accommodation options. A perfect place to start your day and then explore westwards along Maroondah Hwy.
Innocent Bystander – cheapest tastings with cozy vibes
Located right on the main street of Healesville, the Innocent Bystander is not your typical winery setting. Meaning you are not surrounded by vineyards. But picture a refurbished shed with a huge but welcoming dining and bar area, complete with a crackling wood fire next to the tasting bar.
But what caught our attention is the wallet friendly tasting fee of just $5 per person. They source local grapes and make the wine at the Brown Brothers premises. My personal favourite was their Rose. Their shiraz also hit the spot.
Next door is Beechworth Bakery, serving up great chai’s and a tempting selection of cakes and sandwiches.
Four Pillars Distillery – a gin haven with a dash of sustainability
Our next stop in Healesville was Four Pillars Distillery, a must-visit even if you're not usually a gin fan. Which I wasn’t a fan beforehand but was pleasantly surprised I could drink some their flavours straight up!
The service here was top-notch, with the friendliest staff who made us feel so welcomed. We had the pleasure of meeting our host Laura, whose two-week tenure felt like years of expertise. She gave us an informative rundown on the herbs and spices in each gin bottle and the whole distilling process. Even learned about their sustainable practices. Such as, the outside fencing doubles as a water-cooling system, saving thousands of liters of water each month.
For just $15 per person, you get to taste five gins. This fee is redeemable towards a bottle purchase. I was particularly liked the Bloody Shiraz (try it with lemon bitters). And the Rarer Dry Gin was the first gin I could actually drink straight up. Don't miss their produce made from the distillation process by-products, such as crackers, marmalade, and relish.
The real highlight, though, was lunch at their café section. Trust me, the food here is divine. The arancini, not overly cheesy, and the duck pate were standouts. My only regret was not being able to bring some of that pate home! It was the perfect place to have lunch.
Tarrawarra Estate – unconventional wines and a museum
Our experience at Tarrawarra Estate left us a bit underwhelmed. Construction made it tricky to find the entrance, and the building aesthetics didn't quite match my taste. In fact, when you first drive in, the buildings look hidden into the side of the hill.
They had the most expensive tasting fee at $20 for 6 tastings, which can be used as credit towards a purchase.
However, they offer an array of wines made from unconventional grape varieties. The white wine, a blend of Roussanne, Viognier, and Marsanne, intrigued my palate. They also have a Nebbiolo red wine that shows promise, though it didn't outshine their Shiraz according to my palate.
Besides wine, they also have a fine dining restaurant and an art museum.
Rochford Wines – wine, dine and shop
Rochford Wines, a well-known brand, stands along the main wine-lovers road between Healesville and Lilydale .
It's a sizable place with a spacious dining area overlooking the vineyards. They even have a separate gin tasting bar. But what truly sets them apart is their gift shop, offering a curated selection of products from various suppliers, including Ogilvie from WA, Emu oil products, homewares, and toys.
Tastings are a reasonable $10 per person, which can be credited toward a purchase.
Dominique Portet Winery – French flair in the heart of the valley
Our final stop on the east circuit was Dominique Portet, and it was worth every sip.
The winery's building and grounds exude a French charm that transports you to the southern regions of France. It helps that the owner is French!
Tastings cost $15 per person, and it's non-refundable. But you do get a 10% discount on any purchase. Their Brut sparkling and the very smooth Cabernet Sauvignon Malbec were standouts,. My taste buds were dancing with delight.
Now, let's shift our focus to the western end of the Yarra Valley. Majority of wineries are conveniently located along Melba Highway. Our journey began at Coombe Estate and took us northward.
Coombe Estate – history meets wine
The standout feature of Coombe Estate is its history. The old cottage was once the home of Dame Nellie Melba. This Dame was the first Australian to achieve international recognition as an opera singer.
They do offer house tours of Coombe Cottage but only as part of a package. Bookings are limited to 10 persons and must be booked at least 48hrs in advance. They also offer general estate tours at a lower cost.
At the front of the property you’ll find the new buildings which houses a chic restaurant and a cellar door.
Punt Road Winery – cider, wines and markets
For cider enthusiasts, then add Punt Hill Winery to your list.
Taste 5 different wine options for a cost of $10 (non-refundable). It was the only winery we encountered that also served a platter of crackers and olives to accompany our tastings.
The cellar door is a charming old building, that offers indoor and outdoor sitting options. I enjoyed all their wines, especially the shiraz. Can you tell, I love shiraz!! We were lucky to get a tasting of the rose cider too.
Punt Hill also hosts the monthly Yarra Valley Farmers Market along its long driveway. It’s on the third Sunday of every month, from 9.00am to 1.30pm.
Zonzo Estate – a taste of traditional Italy
While there are no wine tastings at Zonzo Estate, it's the place to be for a sumptuous Italian lunch.
Picture a large shed tastefully decorated in rustic industrial style, reminiscent of an upmarket beer hall. As they are an Italian family, the restaurant re-creates traditional Italian dishes. As I have been to Italy several times, I had something to compare it to. And I was pleasantly delighted.
The restaurant offers hearty traditional meals. Yes, that includes authentic Italian pizzas, either with tomato or oil based. They even offer gluten free bases too. All can be washed down with their hand crushed wines or a glass of prosecco.
Don’t miss the famous traditional drink, home-made limoncello. And now they bottle a limoncello spritz.
Yarra Valley Cheese – say cheese!
If you need a little break from wineries or want to stock up on snacks for your evening wine session, swing by the famous Yarra Valley Cheese.
This shop is housed in a very old rustic building. It’s deceiving from the outside as it may appear its ready to fall down. But the inside excudes charm.
They offer a variety of goats and cow cheeses. Unfortunately, we didn’t realise they had $5 tastings until we walked out of the store. But we spent big anyway in their produce store, including cheese, crackers, quince and onion relish. Pairing it with our wine purchases of the day, that was dinner sorted!
Domaine Chandon – all about sparkling
Although not precisely located on Melba Hwy, its close enough to Coombe Estate, so I have included it into the north circuit.
Domaine Chandon specialises exclusively in sparkling wines. Step into their upmarket tasting area with exceptional views over the vineyards with the Yarra Ranges in the background. Then tantalise your taste buds with their selection selection of sparkling wines
Tastings cost $19 but they run only in groups. When we arrived, the next available slot was 45 minutes away, so we opted for our own Paddle taste at $25. This included three servings of half glasses. The Blanc de Blanc was stood out for me. The do offer other tasting paddles to showcase their sweeter and fruitier range.
You can order grazing plates too to accompany your tastings. Plus there’s a small café to the side as well.
Hop On Hop Off style in the Yarra Valley
If you plan to stay overnight in the valley and prefer not to appoint a designated driver for the day, consider Hop It.
Hop It offers a hop on/hop off bus tour. Choose from two routes to explore all the wineries, distilleries and breweries of the Yarra Valley. Both start from Coombe Estate. Their Red Route aligns with my east circuit above, heading eastwards from Coombe Estate towards Healesville. While the Green Route, is based very similar my north circuit above.
Consult the timetable to plan your 4 or 5 stops per day. This means you have only 1 hour stop in each place.
These buses do depart from Melbourne CBD, if you need a break from Melbourne shopping! It also picks up passengers at Lilydale, located in the western end of the valley. Do check their website or call them to confirm operating days, as it varies according to seasons. They aim to operate on days in which the wineries are open to the public.
Non-winery things to do
While the Yarra Valley is known for its wineries, there’s more to explore, especially its natural beauty,
Emerald Lake Park
Take a breather and soak in the fresh air as you stroll around a small lake with a beautiful wooden bridge. There’s recreational water craft for hire too, if you are feeling more energetic.
During your visit, its worthwhile to walk up the hill to catch a glimpse of the Puffing Billy Railway. This is a mini train station set in buildings from over 100 years ago. They still offer at least two train departures daily from Belgrave to Lakeside. And train enthusiasts will love the Menzies Creek Museum, home to historic trains and memorabilia. All with free entry!
Nestled in the lush Dandenong Ranges, is the quaint village of Olinda The main street is lined with charming old wooden buildings. Walk along the wooden verandas and browse the boutique shops, delicious eateries or dine in a traditional pub.
Olinda boasts the distinction of being the highest village in the Dandenong Ranges. And what a drive it was to get to this historic village. Winding through the forested hills, it was an adventure in itself.
We stopped at Olinda Tea House, expecting a café but discovered a Chinese restaurant with a twist. The tastefully decorated premises offered high teas that were equally tasteful. Even a latte and cake was a colourful treat. Seems a popular spot, even mid-week.
Plan your Yarra Valley visit
When you find yourself in Melbourne, make sure the Yarra Valley is on your itinerary. A single day here is a treat, but dedicating two days allows you to fully immerse yourself in its charm, savor its natural beauty, and discover a wealth of boutique wineries.
So why wait. Start planning your Yarra Valley adventure today. Which winery would be your first choice??