Victoria's Yarra Valley: Wine and hot air balloon rides in foodie heaven

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An hour from Melbourne, the Yarra Valley is home to some of the world’s most highly regarded wines. 

But visitors can do more than simply train their palates in the way of the grape in the hills of the Seville Estate and the eye-catching architecture of the Tarra Warra. 

After taking a whistle-stop tour of the valley featuring a night in a converted container, e-bikes, hot air balloons, hearty brewery dinners and gin and wine tastings, Daily Mail Australia gives you the lowdown on how to pack the most into a few days away in the one of the country’s most underrated getaway locations.

Taste of the region: Daily Mail Australia took a trip to one of Australia's trendiest wine regions - the Yarra Valley. The luxury accommodation containers are touring the Rutherglen and Mornington regions from March-June 2021

Taste of the region: Daily Mail Australia took a trip to one of Australia’s trendiest wine regions – the Yarra Valley. The luxury accommodation containers are touring the Rutherglen and Mornington regions from March-June 2021

Visitors to the Seville Estate have a choice of a range of appetisers to accompany each wine selection

Visitors to the Seville Estate have a choice of a range of appetisers to accompany each wine selection

The vineyards

One of my first pit stops after a short hop into the valley from Melbourne was the renowned Seville Estate. 

Guided through the wine tasting experience by a sommelier, I tried a range of grape varieties from Seville’s 2018 Chardonnay to Mornington’s aromatic Pinot Noir and Rutherglen’s sweet Muscat desert wine. 

The Seville Chardonnay was my favourite and most memorable tasting, combining the citrus and melon flavours associated with the grape variety with a distinct hint of oak. 

Here at the Seville Estate the head winemaker Dylan McMahon explained to me the unique characteristics of the Yarra Valley’s wine production and what makes the estate and the region’s wines so different to other parts of Australia.

The TarraWarra Estate is a setting steeped in grandeur with a concrete sub-terranean cellar door and monument-style architecture

The TarraWarra Estate is a setting steeped in grandeur with a concrete sub-terranean cellar door and monument-style architecture

‘The Yarra is a cool climate region so we’re picking our grapes through March and early April,’ he told Daily Mail Australia.

‘It’s perfect for fragrance with our wines like Pinot Noir and this year will be a classic Yarra vintage like the ones we used to see in the 1990s.’

In hotter regions like New South Wales the wines are picked earlier in the year as the grapes ripen more quickly, but in the Yarra the cool Victorian temperatures allow the fruit to develop on the vine and gain a more complex, distinctive taste.

At TarraWarra, Daily Mail Australia writer Charlie Coë's favourite tasting was the fruity J Block Shiraz

At TarraWarra, Daily Mail Australia writer Charlie Coë’s favourite tasting was the fruity J Block Shiraz

‘You can’t change the wine once the grapes are being processed. The taste is made on the vine,’ Mr McMahon said.

On the northern end of the valley at the TarraWarra Estate is a setting steeped in grandeur with a concrete sub-terranien cellar door and monumental-style architecture. 

The cool-climate wine hit my taste buds with strong flavours of fruit and black cherry, and caught my interest so much I enjoyed another glass of it with lunch. 

The menu at the idyllic Tarra Warra Estate is designed by head chef Mark Ebbels, a born-and-bred expert of Yarra Valley cuisine

The menu at the idyllic Tarra Warra Estate is designed by head chef Mark Ebbels, a born-and-bred expert of Yarra Valley cuisine

Accommodation

For the two days I had to experience the area, I was put up in a luxury converted container at the award-winning Seville Estate.

The winery is not included in the containers’ tour of Victoria this year, but they will be popping up in the Rutherglen and Mornington regions of Victoria from March-June 2021.

The accommodation is a perfect fit for those hunting the latest trends in eco-holidaying. 

The converted shipping containers operated by Contained – complete with a small kitchen top, minibar and breakfast hamper – are carbon neutral and powered from behind by a row of solar panels.

For overnight digs, Daily Mail Australia got the chance to try out the stylish converted containers nestled among the vines at the Seville Estate

For overnight digs, Daily Mail Australia got the chance to try out the stylish converted containers nestled among the vines at the Seville Estate 

The sophisticated containers are carbon neutral and powered from behind by a row of solar panels

The sophisticated containers are carbon neutral and powered from behind by a row of solar panels

At Seville, the luxury pods were a short walk across the vineyard to a hot tub.

I used a short break in my itinerary after dinner on the first night to sample what it’s like to take a dip under the stars.

The experience was a memorable if not slightly unnerving one given I may have been the only person around for several kilometers at the time.

The containers, marketed under the ‘Wine Down Pop Up’ tagline, are touring Montalto and its sister-estate Tucks on the Mornington Peninsula from March 29 to April 26 and All Saints Estate in Rutherglen from May 5 to June 2.

Food and non-wine related drink

My first culinary port of call in the valley was the cafe at Meletos – nestled in converted century-old farmhouses and neighboured by the picturesque vines of the highly-regarded Punt Road winery.

While I stayed away from the wine for this first experience, I used the opportunity to taste the region’s local beer production in the form of Meletos’ brewed on-site Brewhouse Indian Pale Ale and Extra Pale Ale ‘pots’.

The Coldstream Brewery in the heart of the Yarra Valley boasts tavern-style dining in a relaxed atmosphere

The Coldstream Brewery in the heart of the Yarra Valley boasts tavern-style dining in a relaxed atmosphere

INCREASED HYGIENE PRACTICES IN THE YARRA VALLEY DUE TO THE CORONAVIRUS

Contained’s converted containers are cleaned daily beyond normal cleaning procedures with a disinfecting solution.

Each room is ventilated by its own air conditioning unit as well as bi-fold doors and windows.

A complimentary breakfast hamper and bottle of wine are brought to each room staff who have scrubbed properly beforehand. 

Seville Estate’s head winemaker Dylan McMahon said the winery is putting emphasis on hygiene when dealing with customers.

For the main course, I would recommend the combination of flavours in the homemade gnocchi with pumpkin, mushroom and truffle.

The Yarra also boasts a strong beer and gin-producing industry. For dinner on the first night, I made my way over to the Coldstream Brewery a short 20-minute drive away from my digs at Seville Estate.

The casual tavern-style dining fronts a home-brewed beer-making operation started by five mates in 2007 who were inspired by their experiences travelling through Europe.

As the restaurant is known for its steaks, I opted for the porterhouse – washing it down with one of their home-brewed pale ales.

At the valley's Four Pillars Gin distillery, a trendy gin bar is complemented by a comprehensive tasting experience examining all aspects of the alcoholic drink

At the valley’s Four Pillars Gin distillery, a trendy gin bar is complemented by a comprehensive tasting experience examining all aspects of the alcoholic drink

The pub, naturally based in the small town of Coldstream, would be the way to go for those on looking for hearty food in a cosy, conversational setting.

Over in Healesville, the valley is host to the Four Pillars Gin distillery – consisting of a bar and tasting area overlooking the almost Willy Wonka-style distillation machinery through a row of circular windows.

Once again guided through the experience by an expert in the field, I was taken through the nuts and bolts (quite literally) of the gin-making process.

The session explained the distillation process required to create the much-loved tipple to the base botanical – juniper berries – you cannot make the drink without.

The tasting session at Four Pillars takes gin-lovers through the complex process of distillation and the basics of botanicals

The tasting session at Four Pillars takes gin-lovers through the complex process of distillation and the basics of botanicals

The aesthetic of Four Pillars has an inviting Californian wine region feel – from the modern decor to the smart-looking streets and Payten and Jones winery across the road.

My morning visit to the distillery showed once again you don’t need to be a vineyard lover to enjoy the Yarra Valley.

For my final meal at TarraWarra before my flight home, I was fortunate to sample the menu designed by head chef Mark Ebbels, a born-and-bred expert of the valley’s cuisine.

Daily Mail Australia's writer pictured with a sea of white clouds behind him. Ballooning enthusiasts need to be prepared for an early morning wake-up call if they are factoring the experience into their trip

Daily Mail Australia’s writer pictured with a sea of white clouds behind him. Ballooning enthusiasts need to be prepared for an early morning wake-up call if they are factoring the experience into their trip

Visitors can look out on the almost Willy Wonka-style distillation machinery through a row of circular windows

Visitors can look out on the almost Willy Wonka-style distillation machinery through a row of circular windows

I picked a winner with the kangaroo, served with black garlic and palm hearts.

A meal at TarraWarra is best preceded by a visit to the luxurious cellar door, and a stroll afterwards through the vineyard’s adjoining art museum.

Hot air ballooning

Look at any promotional material showing scenic shots of the Yarra and the chances are you’ll see a fleet of hot air balloons flying high in the sky.

An early-morning wake-up call and drive over to the Balgownie Estate had me whisked into the sky with Global Ballooning Australia.

I had seen the Hunter Valley a few months before from a hot air balloon, but nothing can prepare you for a trip when the conditions align and you punch through the clouds several thousand feet in the sky.

A fleet of hot air balloons is a common sight when looking to the sky at the Yarra Valley

After a brief few seconds of vertigo, I had to just look out in amazement at the surreal sea of white in front of us.

Before lift-off one of the crew members told us we would be in the safe hands of our pilot Eddie – who although fresh-faced had years of experience learning the tools of his trade from his balloonist father.

Eddie and his co-pilot Georgia navigated us through pockets of wind, patches of clouds, a softer than usual landing and finally a champagne breakfast at the Balgownie Estate.

Daily Mail Australia was lucky enough to punch through the clouds on a chilly Victorian morning on a hot air balloon flight

Daily Mail Australia was lucky enough to punch through the clouds on a chilly Victorian morning on a hot air balloon flight

The company also offer balloon flights over Melbourne itself, navigating the bends of the Yarra River as you look down over the city.

E-biking

A journey out to rural Warburton takes you to where the valley meets the deeply forested Yarra Ranges, which extend eastwards – eventually merging with Mt Kosciuszko in the Victorian Alps.

Here I met up with Joel, the owner of Cog Bike Cafe, who took me on a two-hour 30km e-bike ride along the O’Shannassy Aqueduct Trail and the eastern end of the Lilydale-Warburton Rail Trail.

The routes were once traversed by water heading to the local dam and an agricultural railway line but now play host to cyclists, joggers or those simply wanting to enjoy the great outdoors.

More active tourists can venture out for an e-bike ride on the O’Shannassy Aqueduct Trail and and the Lilydale-Warburton Rail Trail

More active tourists can venture out for an e-bike ride on the O’Shannassy Aqueduct Trail and and the Lilydale-Warburton Rail Trail

I met up with Joel, the owner of Cog Bike Cafe, who took me on a two-hour 30km e-bike ride along the two routes

I met up with Joel, the owner of Cog Bike Cafe, who took me on a two-hour 30km e-bike ride along the two routes

Joel spoke to me about the exciting upcoming construction of the Warburton Mountain Bike Destination.

The WMBD is a multi-million dollar government and local-business funded project to install 150km of cycling trails in the mountains either side of the small town.

My guide said Warburton, formerly the site of goldfields in the 1800s and a timber logging hub later on, was much in need of the new tourist infrastructure dubbed by those in the field ‘as the most exciting thing happening in Australian mountain biking’.

Transport

The one thing that strikes you about the location of the Yarra Valley is its proximity to its nearest major city.

The Hunter Valley is a good two-hour drive from Sydney, while the famed Margaret River region is three hours away by car from Perth. 

The Yarra is just one hour from Melbourne’s Tullamarine Airport, and after a short drive along the city’s outer ring road and a short descent into the valley I was struck by the convenience of a weekend away in the region. 

Joel told me his bike shop and cafe (pictured) was looking forward to the financial boost of an upcoming multi-million dollar mountain bike trail to be installed in the Warburton area

Joel told me his bike shop and cafe (pictured) was looking forward to the financial boost of an upcoming multi-million dollar mountain bike trail to be installed in the Warburton area

Having your own car is a must for making the most of the area, with most of the sights worth seeing about a half-an-hour drive away from each other. 

I was lucky enough to make my way into and through the valley in a BMW X3 SUV courtesy of Visit Victoria. 

More accustomed to lower-budget rental hires, it was clear to me the extras you get for your money with the higher-market set of wheels.

Aside from the sophisticated bluetooth and surround sound features, I was most impressed with the satellite navigation feature allowing the driver to see directions reflected onto the windscreen from a projector on the dashboard – minimising distractions.

This writer was a guest of Visit Victoria.

To book a stay in the Contained accommodation pods, visit the Visit Victoria website.

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