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Follow the Yarra River roughly 50km north-east of Melbourne, and it runs right through the heart of one of the most important wine regions in Australia: the Yarra Valley. Bordered on the north by The Great Dividing Range, and the Dandenong Ranges to the south, the Yarra Valley is Victoria's oldest wine region, and one of the oldest in all of Australia, with the earliest vines being planted in 1838 on the property now known as Yering Station. Sadly, due to phylloxera, the oldest vines in the Yarra are now dated from the 1960s, with all older vines either destroyed or pulled out in an effort to control the pest.
There are two official subregions within the Yarra Valley - the Valley Floor (or Lower Yarra), and the Upper Yarra. However, given the relative size of the region, many winemakers and vignerons divide the Valley into smaller parishes, such as Dixons Creek, Coldstream, Yarra Glen, Gruyere, Woori Yallock and Hoddles Creek.
It's difficult to define the terroir of a region like Yarra Valley, as there are so many different macro and microclimates throughout the area. Altitude, aspect, rainfall and soil all differ greatly across the valley, leading to an enormous array of differing terroirs, which offer winemakers the opportunity to create wonderful expressions of both site and grape.
The overall climate is categorised as mainly cool continental given its average temperature range, but it still feels the effects of the nearby oceans; and parts of the Lower Yarra fall well within the Mediterranean range. So it's essentially continental with Mediterranean and maritime influences.
Another factor that gives the Yarra Valley an incredibly diverse terroir is the range of altitudes that the vineyards sit at. While relatively low, the vineyards are planted across gently undulating hills which range from 50m to 400m above sea level.
This diverse topography is reflected in the various soil types found throughout the Yarra Valley. There are two main soils, which differ dramatically. The first is found on the northern side of the valley, and consists of loamy sand or clay filled with rock from the ancient sandstone of the Great Dividing Range. The other major soil type is the much younger, immensely deep, fertile and well-drained vivid red volcanic soil, typically found at Seville, Hoddles Creek and elsewhere on the southern side of the valley.
Like the nearby Mornington Peninsula, the cool temperatures of the Yarra make it one of the best regions in Australia for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Given the cooler continental climate, the Pinot produced in the Yarra tends to be on the lighter, more delicate side, but with incredible complexity and detail, thanks to the long, stable growing season.
The Chardonnay from the Yarra is equally elegant and finessed, compared to other, warmer sites around Australia. Yarra winemakers tend to lean away from the use of new oak, or full malolactic conversion, instead producing wines that express the purity of the fruit as well as the site in which it's grown.
While Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are considered to be royalty in the Yarra Valley, Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz also do very well in the region’s lower, warmer sites. These classic Australian varieties are made into wonderful examples of cool-climate wines, offering lighter-bodied versions, with plenty of spice and floral character. They have been joined in recent years by emerging varieties such as Nebbiolo and Gamay, which have been produced to great effect in some of the cooler sites.
Luke Lambert, Crudo, Fikkers, Hoddles Creek, Wickham's Road, Thick As Thieves, Mac Forbes, Timo Mayer, Bloody Hill, Gembrook Hill, The Wanderer, Bobar, Dominique Portet, Seville Estate, Mount Mary, Yeringberg, Yarra Yering, Warramate, Giant Steps, Ar Fion, Salo, Payten & Jones, Punch, Toolangi, Wantirna Estate