Disclaimer: I was invited on this tour for the purpose of review. All opinions are my own. 

Last weekend Dan and I had the opportunity to head out to the Yarra Valley with Epicurean Wine Tours.  After chatting with Nicci and hearing how they choose their wineries based on family history and character, it sounded fantastic.  We were then invited to join a tour and as I had only been to one of the wineries on the list and I was excited to visit some hidden gems of the Yarra Valley.

The fantastic thing about Epicurean Tours is they pick you up from a location that suits in Melbourne in the morning and drop you back to your door late afternoon.  This is perfect if you’re staying in Melbourne.  I actually grew up not far from the Yarra Valley and my parents were on babysitting duty so we arranged a meeting point along the way for Bill to pick us up at.  There were 4 other guests on the tour.  A couple from New Jersey and a couple of girls, one from Melbourne and her friend from Perth.  Each tour is personal with the guide getting to know you along the way.  The bus seated no more than 10 – 12 people, which is a great number I thought for the wineries to look after at once.  The bus also had free wifi in it which was handy as my Telstra signal out there wasn’t the best.

Bill, our tour guide was a wealth of information on the Yarra Valley, the wines and the people behind the wine.  First of all he took the back roads to get us out there which is great as you get to see the wineries and farms along the way.  No boring highways on this tour!  Secondly he was interesting to listen too, he had a story to tell and as the day went on we all laughed and joked together but Bill was still very professional and courteous.  I learnt that sparkling Chardonnay are the first grapes to be picked and the Yarra Valley is well known for its Chardonnay and Pinot.

As we arrived at our first stop, De Bortoli Wines, Bill told us the story of how the vineyard came about and how Leanne De Bortoli, a third generation winemaker continues to run it with her family.
This was a great winery to start the day as not only was there wine but also cheese!  It was really interesting to get some guidance and how each cheese is matched with a certain wine.  They have definitely sourced some great cheeses to match.

Meredith Goats Cheese, Le Dauphin (FR), Fontina (IT), Cashel Blue (IRE)

I love a good dessert wine and these were amazing.  The darker one, Black Noble, recently won the Best Fortified Wine in the World at an awards show in Hong Kong.  You could really taste the sweetness of the grape.  I should have bought a bottle straight away but I will definitely be back to do so (and some cheese too).

Next stop was literally across the road at Graeme Miller Wines/Dixon Creek Estate.  At the top of a windy dirt road there’s a shed and if there’s no one there just call Graeme as he’s probably out attending the farm and vines.  The action happens inside the shed but on the way in you have to stop and take in the views.  The clouds were also making for great photos the day we went.

Our favourite here was the 2006 Keith Charles Vintage Fort which happened to come home with us too.

The Reds at Dixons Creek Estate, the one on the right was my favourite

Dominique Portet was up next.  The cellar door was a quaint house that oozed French tones.  They had a function on in the cafe which preoccupied the staff working there and we didn’t get to try all the wines like at the other cellar doors.  We did however get the opportunity for an extra $5 to try their 2008 Andre Shiraz Cabernet Sauvignon.  This is a tribute from 10th generation winemakers to their French grandfather.  The views outside were captivating and I could sip their rose all through Summer.

Dominique Portet cellar door

Lunch time.  We took a few turns and headed on past the well known Levatine Hill and Rochford Wines.  Down another dirt road and we arrived at Soumah (pronounced So-Mah).  We were shown to our table and then Bill left us to have lunch and a chat.  We ordered our meals and then headed to the bar for a tasting.  Soumah have a love for Italian wines and first up was a Savarro.  This was described to us as the grandfather of the white wine grapes.  Dan really enjoyed this wine, it was smooth and light with just a little acidity.  My favourite was the Ai Fiori which is made with Pinot Noir and Syrah, then blended with Savarro grapes.  It was dry, light and fruity.  I was having a pasta for lunch and this was the perfect accompaniment.  Dan enjoyed a Syrah with his lamb.

The lunch included with the tour was the antipasto platter, a main and a glass of wine.  The food was beautiful and the Orecchiette I had just melted in your mouth.  It was a great combination of flavours with broccili, sultanas, pine nuts and pecorino.  Dan had the Lamb Shoulder with butter pea Gnocchi which was packed full of flavour.  However as we’d been sipping wines for the past few hours we were all a bit peckish so decided to indulge in desserts.  Chocolate platters were shared by the other guests while Dan and I inhaled this delicious rhubarb and almond tart.

Lucky last was Helen & Joey Estate.  This really is a hidden gem.  From the highway you can’t see it but once you make the turn and go over the hill and into the valley you can see the vineyard and up on the hill is their cellar door/coffee house.  Helen is a busy and talented lady who we had the pleasure of chatting to while she poured our wine tastings.  As well as making wines she also roasts her own coffee!

Bill was telling us that next year they are hoping to organise a tour where you can head up to Helen & Joey’s and pick your grapes then squash them (I’m sure it’s more technical) and then they will barrel it up and you would end up with a bottle of wine you actually made.  Now that sounds like a tour I want in on.

Before we left we had to get a group shot (or 2)

there had to be a silly shot, right!?

What a fabulous day out in the Yarra Valley sampling some of its best and hidden talents.  I’m lucky enough to be able to head back there to make some purchases but I highly recommend grabbing a bottle or two at each stop as you generally can’t find these wines elsewhere.  Some of the wineries will send them so you don’t have extra luggage and if Helen & Joey are your last stop, they will box up all your purchases and send them within Australia for you.

the view through the vines at Helen & Joey Estate

Epicurean wine tours are a great way to explore the Yarra Valley wineries whether you’re a local, from interstate or overseas guest.  You can find out more about them on Facebook and Instagram.

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