Doing the Vineyards of Yarra Valley
TRAVEL UPDATE - Marlinda Angbetic Tan (The Freeman) - November 6, 2014 - 12:00am

I always look forward to joining a wine tour, whether alone or with a friend. It certainly is fun to be with friends; nonetheless, people's initial inhibitions will have been overcome after the second tasting. By then, the bantering will start among the friendly ones in the group. Giggling will most probably occur among the non-wine drinkers, the uninitiated as it were. And a good tour guide will keep the ball rolling as the tour stops from one winery to the next.

By 7:55AM on a Sunday in the first week of October, I was picked up from my hotel at Pegasus Apart'Hotel on A'Beckett St. by a Cafe Bus Winery Tours' coach with driver/guide Peter at the helm. (I attended an anticipated Mass the previous evening at St. Francis Church, just 15 minutes walk from my hotel) Since Daylight Saving Time started that day, it was actually 6:55AM. And since I was staying overnight in a boutique vineyard resort & spa, I was lugging along an overnighter.  Good thing Peter is a jolly good chap (a Colin Farrel look-alike!) and arranged my bag up front, as I was seated all the way to the back, being the last pick up. By the way, it's called a Cafe Bus because hot brewed coffee is available onboard, at the passenger's convenience. Especially on cold mornings like that Sunday.

We did the Coldstream Trail for our Yarra Valley wine tasting.  Within a cozy 13-km loop, this trail has 10 stops for food and wine, highlighting the area's "diversity," the vintners/farmers' "passion to their craft" and what we experienced as the locals' "welcoming attitude." Additional attraction are the charming gardens, so breath-taking even at the onset of spring with buds still mostly unfurled on the branches.

Our first stop was at a famous chocolate factory where most of the group sat down for a cuppa, along with the temptations arrayed in the fragrant display counters. Not having a sweet inclination, I opted to stay in the bus and chatted with Peter, while he had his coffee. Then, the official first stop was at Napoleone Brewery & Ciderhouse -- one of 2 microbreweries -- where I discovered that regular apple cider is sweet, while the cloudy variety is dry; that pear cider is very sweet, while pale ale (hops, malts & yeast) is mild but with a decidedly bitter aftertaste. On the way, we passed Yering Farms - the oldest winery which uprooted its vines in the 1930s Depression. However, they replanted in the 1990s and has since reclaimed their reputation. The valley, Peter shared, is known for its vintage Chardonnay and sparkling wines, to the point where Moet et Chandon of Champagne (France) has established its own vineyards in  Domaine Chandon. Impressive!

Yarra Valley Gateway Estate, a gourmet farm where you can pick hothouse strawberries whatever the season, was next. They also sell local produce, along with their homemade chutneys and jams.

The third stop was at a definitely French boutique winery: Dominique Portet Estate, where we had lunch at their cellar.  Upon the tip given by Peter, I bought a bottle of their Heathcote Shiraz 2012 which I enjoyed with my French bread cheese sandwich.

From Yarra Glen, we crossed over to a merry place in Healesville where we had more wine tasting at the famous Innocent Bystander (open cellar) where queues are seen at the dining tables, as well as at the bar area where several wine tastings take place. Then on to the next door: White Rabbit microbrewery where we tasted pale, white (from juniper berries) and dark ales.

Last stop towards late afternoon was at the sprawling vineyards of Kinarra Estate where we were served with, among others, hot truffle oil with mushroom pizza to pair off with their best vintage. Pinot Grigio is one new vintage that I loved.  It was also here where Peter pointed out, that the cabernet sauvignon plots are facing the sunset, getting most advantage of the sunlight. 

I was brought to Balgownie Estate Vineyard Resort & Spa where I stayed the night.  It is an upmarket boutique hotel, one of three in the valley.  They offer a Tri-Victoria: three-day wine journey, through their properties. Just an hour's drive from Melbourne is the 5-star resort where I was, then there is Heathcote Winery & Cellar Door, with an adjacent art gallery.  It is a heritage listed building built by Thomas Craven in 1854.  Last of the trio is the Balgownie House in Maiden Gully, Bendigo. Its 30-hectare vineyard yields predominantly cabernet and shiraz, with some chardonnay and pinot noir, among others.

I had a gourmet dinner of melt-in-your-mouth ox cheeks with a lovely merlot at Rae's, the resort's restaurant.  After a restful night at a suite at King's Terrace, I had a hearty breakfast (part of the room package) and waited for Craig Cooney to pick me up. Craig owns Cafe Bus Winery Tours. Being a friend of Joan, my travel agent, he offered to bring me back to my hotel...such gallantry! Thanks, Craig!

***

For an unforgettable Melbourne or any Australian adventure, contact Joan Young-Tiu of Wanderlanes Travel (tel # 231-3935 to 36; fax: 231-3945; email: inbound@wanderlanestravel.com)

For a great Yarra Valley or Tasmania Wine Tour, contact Craig Cooney (03) 9397-7738.  Or simply book through Wanderlanes Travel.

Enjoy your trip!

BALGOWNIE ESTATE VINEYARD RESORT BALGOWNIE HOUSE BECKETT ST. CAFE BUS CAFE BUS WINERY TOURS CELLAR DOOR CRAIG COONEY WINE YARRA VALLEY
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