The sun is shining, the birds are singing and according to my Facebook newsfeed, that means it’s time to visit your local winery. Australia is home to some of the best wine regions in the world and they are more accessible than you may realise. The best part is you don’t have to know the first thing about wine to enjoy them either.
I want to be clear right from the outset- I am no wine expert. In fact there are some wine varieties that if you wrote them down on a piece of paper I wouldn’t know if they are white, red, sparkling, a person’s surname or some kind of fancy French restaurant. That is how basic my knowledge of plonk is.
I am not completely wine illiterate; I have done winery tours before and once I even signed up to a company to receive a dozen bottles of assorted red wines every three months. In honesty, I think I was taken advantage of. I was at the airport, on my way to Sydney and was seduced by one of those wine tasting stands that pop up regularly in airport departure terminals. To be fair I was probably more interested in some free booze, but two hundred dollars later and after being made an honorary Kiwi by the New Zealander pouring drinks, I was a proud(ish) member. He even gave me a “free” wine aerator (upon opening the box of said aerator I found it looked more like a sex toy than a wine decanting device; it even came complete with a strange storage sock that I could store it in. Safe to say it doesn’t sit on the kitchen counter).
With all that in mind, I recently had my first trip to a Yarra Valley winery.
For the uninitiated, the Yarra Valley is located an hour or so outside of Melbourne, Australia, and, according to the pamphlets, is home to some of the finest wineries in Victoria. It is a significant place of interest for wine connoisseurs and a popular tourist draw, particularly on weekends.
The Yarra Valley is one of those well know regions of the state that people know about and want to visit but few find the time to get to with any sort of regularity. However it’s a place that once visited, people are left destined to return. It emits a laid back, country feel that is hard to recreate.
After one visit I can understand why.
We settled in at a winery called ‘Greenstone’- a name that sounds more like the title of an English period drama or James Bond villain than a winery.
Aside from having a name reminiscent of a 19th century English castle, there was a lot to like. The function area was a large deck, perched at the top of a hill overlooking the vineyard and provided picturesque views of the valley below. A grassy area was set up beneath with tables and a variety of lawn games were on hand to help pass the time. A solo musician also provided entertainment, singing tunes from the balcony. It created one of those relaxing and entertaining vibes that leaves you wanting to settle in and slowly get sloshed in the sun. Time just drips away. A bloke manned a barbeque roasting up some gourmet sausages (these things were as thick as your arm so it was safe to say they weren’t your average supermarket sausages) and you were also allowed to bring your own snacks and appetizers. But my favourite part was that locally crafted beer and cider was available if wine wasn’t your thing; an option for people who like the relaxed winery atmosphere but not necessarily the wine that comes with it. A smart, tactical move on their behalf.
As I sat there in the back blocks of Yarra Glen, enjoying the food, music and wine, I could see at least four other wineries. On a broader scale, the Yarra Valley region has a plethora of vino options that encourage and entice. In total there are over one hundred wineries in the area. Not only does it create a decision making nightmare, it means that basically all of your wine drinking options are taken care of. Places like Rochford Wines regularly have concerts and events and there are a heap of wine tour services readily available to help guide you to some of the best wineries around.
For the uninitiated, a day at a winery is not as pretentious as it sounds. Generally, the staff are more than willing to help you with drink choices and education. Tasting notes are always supplied (you know, the ones that state you should taste hints of oak, berries and a slight hint of cinnamon) and asking, “What do you recommend?” will not be met with scorn and an upturned nose. In fact, all you really need to know is whether you like red, white or none of the above. They will know which wines are going to be best for beginners and what will suit those with a more refined pallet. While some people are happy to get sophisticated and deeply analyse the wines they drink, those of us who work on the “so long as it tastes good” principle are still welcome.
Greenstone was no exception.
Being such a relatively short distance from Melbourne makes the Yarra Valley an attractive proposition whether you are a wine fan or just interested in going somewhere different for the weekend. Take your partner, take your parents, take your friends; it’ll be a fun day out regardless.
Wayward Tip: Have a designated driver. Seriously, you’re going to a winery.