Since making the move from South Australia, I haven’t visited the Victorian wine regions quite as much as I would have liked. So I made a promise to myself that 2016 would be a year of exploring Victorian wine and getting to know more about the regions and varieties.
I have been spending more time in the Yarra Valley recently, which is especially beautiful at this time of year at harvest when a kaleidoscope of autumnal colours fill the landscape. Only an hour’s drive from Melbourne’s CBD it makes the perfect day trip, or even a weekend if you’re feeling like a longer break.
Being a huge wine fan (I’m not a wine connoisseur mind you! ) , I am always on the look out for good wine tours, but the possibilities are often confusing and not as flexible as you would like. Wine Compass, a hosted wine tour company which started in the Mornington Peninsula, have recently started offering wine tours of the Yarra Valley. So when I was invited to experience a Wine Compass tour of the Yarra Valley, I jumped at the chance.
Whether you’re planning a hens’ party or corporate event, Wine Compass tours are fully flexible and tailored to the needs of your group. Although the tours are focussed on wine of course, you also have the option to visit breweries, dairies, distilleries and other sights and attractions.
Recently, I have been more of a fan of smaller boutique wineries. I feel like you get a richer experience and really get to know the winery and the wine makers behind it. So our itinerary was designed with a focus on three wineries so we could fully immerse ourselves in the experience.
Our host, Adam Nicholls (founder of Wine Compass), picked us up bright and early in the morning and explained the itinerary of the day in detail. Our first stop of the day was Pimpernel Vineyards, a small winery nestled behind Rochford Wines and Levantine Hill.
At Pimpernel, they do things a bit differently – using a dry cultivation technique to produce smaller grapes with a higher skin to grape ratio. The end result? Intensely flavoured wines that fully express their vineyard and its climate.
The tasting began in the barrel room in the cellar guided by winemaker Damian Archibald who provided us with a number of tastings straight from the barrel. The wine is fermented in barriques (small open topped vats) to allow the wine makers to pay closer attention to each fermentation and the maturation process. Pimpernel prefers to do things as naturally as possible, choosing not to use any ‘industrial’ techniques like acid balancing or copper fining.
It was great to see all the behind the scenes action of the wine making process and all the work that goes behind it. We just got to do the easy part – try the wine!
We finished our wine tasting at the cellar door, where Damien explained the wine varieties in more detail.
My personal favourites were the pinot noirs, especially the Pinot Noir One (2013) what Damien calls a “feminine wine” full of red fruit, cherries and plums.
Our second stop was Soumah Wines, nestled in the picturesque Warramate foothills of the Yarra Valley. It’s a gorgeous setting amongst the rolling green hills and golden vines. Named fittingly as an acronym of its dress circle location “South of Maroondah Highway”, Soumah is famous for its single vineyard range and cool climate style wines, with a focus on Northern Italy (Savarro, Pinot Grigio, Ai Fiori, Nebiollo, Brachetto) and Eastern France (Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Shiraz and Viognier)
We were guided on a comprehensive wine flight, through their impressive range of elegant and savoury wines, including my personal favourite the Chardonnay d’Soumah.
By this point, we had worked up quite the appetite, so we had lunch at the onsite restaurant, Trattoria d’Soumah which serves rustic Italian food in a relaxed atmosphere. Overlooking the vineyards, the covered outdoor deck is the perfect spot to perch for a long lazy lunch.
We started with a tasting board generously laden with calabrese, prosciutto and Bresaola served with 33 bean spread, grilled vegetables, olives and ciabatta bread, followed by some of their delicious pasta.
For main, I opted for the lamb shoulder which was melt in your mouth tender, slow cooked overnight and teamed with olives and butter pea gnocchi
With full bellies, we were ready for the final tasting of the day at Yileena Park, a winery owned by the charming Bob and Dianne Curtis. Yileena Park is a boutique winery just out of Yarra Glen, away from the typical tourist traffic.
The cellar door has been nicely converted from a double storey sand stone building, which leads up to a rustic tasting room, complete with cosy open fire place. French doors open to an upper deck, which is the perfect spot to sit and enjoy a wine or two and one of their delicious platters.
It was great to hear Bob’s story about the vineyard, and his passion for wine and quality produce. For Bob and Dianne their journey has been a “dream come true” (literally the meaning of Yileena Park). The winery specialises in aged reds, with a minimum of 4 to 6 years ageing before release.
The wines all had great depths of colour and character. Don’t miss the 2005 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon which has aged beautifully and is available for tasting.
Yileena Park also produce their own smoked delicacies including smoked salt, olives and nuts which are infused with the smoke from old wine barrels – a delicious pair for the wine, not to mention their duck.
As dusk set in, it was time to return to Melbourne, with a boot chock full of wine. What a great day out with Wine Compass.
Wine Compass Yarra Valley
T 1300 339 463