Best Yarra Valley Wine Tour is part of the TPOL Down Under Trip Report.
Once again, I waited until the last minute to plan an integral part of my itinerary. Originally, I was supposed to go straight from Darwin to Yarra Valley for wine tasting. That changed when a WikiTravel search revealed that the vineyards in Yarra are spread apart and that the Aussie police do not take kindly to those who drink and drive. Offenders receive a substantial fine, and tourists are banned for life from driving in Australia. While having one less country to drive on the wrong side of the road is fine with me, I decided to avoid the risk and stay in central Melbourne instead.
This led me to my second problem. How would I get to and around the vineyards? Google led me to a phone number for a man named Geoff. He said was unavailable. He gave the number of the nicest man named Bill Hughes of Great Escape Tours who also was full. However, after speaking to him for a few minutes and explaining to him my thirst for Aussie wines, he said he may have an option. He asked me to call him back in fifteen minutes. I did and once again luck was on my side. Bill’s colleague, Graham (contact him on IG), was available provided I arrived at the Lillydale Station by 10AM. That required less than an hour train ride from Flinders Station which was within walking distance from my Aura on Flinders Hotel and only cost 20AUD per person. The cost of the tour was 195AUD per person.
The next day I boarded the train to Lilydale and, as promised, Graham was there to pick us up. Before our first tasting, we stopped to pick up two more wine tasters who luckily were also into drinking without pretentiousness.
Vineyard 1: Seville
The first vineyard ended up also becoming the last vineyard as we all returned there for some bottles for home i.e., the next meal (see Trattoria Emilia Melbourne: A 6 Course Lunch, Why Not?). At most vineyards, the first tasting was a sparkling wine composed of pinot and chardonnay. While they weren’t South Africa’s Blanc de Blancs or Cathay’s Krug, they weren’t bad.
The next wine, and one of the varietals that Australia is know for, was chardonnay. To be clear, I hate chardonnay. It tastes like pine sol, if pine sol had a disgusting after taste. Since wine tasting is about trying something new, I gave Seville’s chardonnay a chance. As promised by the winemaker, it was not a typical chardonnay i.e., I did not hate it. That may not sound like much but compared to the rest of the chardonnay I had that day, it is a bold statement.
The drinking continued. My three favorites were: sangiovese, shiraz, and the pinot noir. Shiraz can be nice but often times I find it too rough. Like the chardonnay, the shiraz produced at this vineyard was the exception. The pinot was ‘approachable’, a new adjective I learned to describe wine. I wish I could describe why I am so into pinot because, “It’s a hard grape to grow, as you know. It’s thin-skinned, temperamental. It’s not a survivor like Cabernet that can grow anywhere and thrive even when neglected. Pinot needs constant care and attention, you know? And in fact it can only grow in these really specific, little, tucked away corners of the world. And, and only the most patient and nurturing of growers can do it, really. Only somebody who really takes the time… to understand Pinot’s potential… can then coax it into its fullest expression.” Clearly, my ability to describe great wine is infantile. However, I am making an effort to refine my vocabulary in addition to my palette.
Vineyard 2: Punt Vineyard
The place is pronounced just like what Michigan does on 4th down (see Meyer Quits: Michigan Should Fire Harbaugh). It is not, poont, as I elegantly tried to enunciate. Like the name, the wine leaves everything to be desired. There was not a single varietal that I enjoyed. Fantasies about coming around to chardonnay went right into the spit bucket.
Vineyard 3: Tokar Estate
When I told Graham that our waiter from Supernormal recommended Tokar, he took us there without hesitation. As was the case throughout the day, Graham knew everyone everywhere.
The tasting began as usual with me swearing that I would never try chardonnay again, breaking that promise by trying the vineyard’s take on this terrible grape, and culminating with me starting back where I started: disgusted.
A sudden onset of a migraine, which I blame on chardonnay, distracted me from fully being able to enjoy the tasting. In need of fresh air, I stepped outside to take in the beautiful scenery.
Vineyard 4: Dominique
Before lunch, the chardonnay nightmare continued. At this point, I was down to sipping the vino to trace amount before dumping it out. Whoever said it’s a crime to waste alcohol is either a raging alcoholic or has never tasted chardonnay.
Fortunately, the buzzer for halftime sounded and lunch was served. It wasn’t tourists scraps. It was quality and included full glasses of wine. Meats and fresh fish freed me from my migraine and let me get back to wine tasting.
Unlike carmenere in Chile (see Colchagua Valley, Chile: Carmenere Wine Tasting Guide) or malbec in Mendoza (see “It’s Like Riding a Bike.” Those words have haunted me for years.), there were significantly more wines that I did not enjoy versus those that I did. I tried the vineyard’s premier wine, Andre, which was not included and went for $10AUD for a sample and $40AUD for the glass. It was pleasant but does not compare to Anthonij Rupert’s Franschhoek Blend.
I don’t know how wine tasting works in Australia as far as what is included with the tour and what isn’t. We weren’t charged anything at Tokar even though it was added to the itinerary at my suggestion. Lunch and tasting were included at Dominique so there must be some way that the tour fee is apportioned.
Vineyard 5: Payten & Jones
I hate that I’m saying bad things about this place because our host was so welcoming, but I must because none of the wines were palatable. Just smelling them was enough to know that anything more would be a mistake. Each time I rejected a wine, our host would say that each person’s experience is what makes wine so great. That may be true but this adage was inapplicable because it wasn’t subtle taste differences that were at issue. It was bottle after bottle of bad grapes. To punctuate my point, the only other wine that was worse than here is China’s own Great Wall (see Air China Lounge Beijing).
Gin Tasting: Four Pillars
At this point you may be saying, “TPOL you are hammered, there’s no way you are in any condition to judge wine.” You would be wrong. The next stop in this wine tour, which morphed into a wine crawl, was gin tasting. Like everywhere else, Graham got us the VIP treatment and introduced us to the great staff that runs the place.
TPOL’s drink of choice when golfing is gin. Maurice Clarett carried his water bottle of vodka to Broncos practice. TPOL carries gin. I can’t differentiate quality gin from bad gin which is why I buy Calvert gin in Puerto Rico. This unsophisticated approach to gin is why I was mesmerized by gin tasting. Unlike Calvert’s rubbing alcohol, Four Pillars’ gin does not have to be dissolved with soda water and low calorie grapefruit juice. The paddle of gin, the international word for ‘flight’, was so lovely with minimal chaser required. It had me yearning for my driver. Armed with Four Pillars gin, I’m sure I could carry the ball well over 274 meters (300 yards).
Graham dropped us off back at the train station. We were scheduled to leave at five but due to unforeseeable delays, he extended the tour till six.
Wine tasting is one of the best excuses to travel all over the world. Yarra Valley wine tasting is a great excuse to binge drink in class.