Since starting the project to visit 60 identified cellar doors within the Yarra Valley wine region, I have had a number of people recommend, including those far more in the know than I, to put Yarra Yering to the top of my list when next going on a winery tourist jaunt. Being the first vineyard I am visiting in 2014 (long, not very interesting story) I headed into the Yarra Valley on a moody winters day.
There are a number of aspects I love about visiting the valley in winter, the constantly changing light and personality of the valley based on the weather. The wine trail is much quieter than when the vine canopies are in bloom meaning a quieter cellar door, new vintage releases to taste, personal service which generally leads to the availability for more conversation and stories. And so it was on the day I drove up Yarra Yering’s narrow driveway
As I am increasingly learning, doing a little research before venturing out pays its dividends when in the cellar door or wandering around the site. For Yarra Yering has a special place in the annuals of viticultural and oenological history of the Yarra Valley.
The Yarra Valley's first vines planted in 1838 with the vinificaiton of the first wine in 1845 at Yearing Station, by 1921 wine production in the valley had ceased, with the land being progressively cleared for pastoral purposes.
Enter Dr Bailey Carrodus, an academic (trained botanist, viticulauralist, a Phd in plant physiology), who in his career taught oenology at Roseworthy, a teaching stint at Melbourne Uni saw Dr Carrodus to Melbourne, retiring at the CSIRO in 1977.
Prior to his retirement Dr Carrodus commenced searching for a plot meeting his specific requirements in the Yarra Valley. In 1969 after identifying a north facing sloping site, high enough from the valley floor to avoid the harmful late spring frosts, vines were planted at Yarra Yering.
In 1973 Yarra Yering made the first commercial Yarra Valley wine in 52 years, the same year the historic estate of Yeringberg returned to wine production.
Dr Carrodus had a specific idea of the wines he was going to produce at Yarra Yering. Befitting his academic qualifications the site, viticultural focus on high quality fruit, with low yielding, hand managed, unirrigated vineyards. Together with his bespoke, purpose designed winery were to his solitary working standards and practices.
An example of this are the small half tonne, square, stainless steel lined fermentation boxes referred to by the cellar door staff as 'tea chest' fermenters Carrodus designed and built to facilitate his solitary vinificaiton of each vintage.
The wines were named with numbers for example the first wine - "Dry Red No 1", a Bordeaux blend dominated by cabernet sauvignon blended with merlot, malbec, petit verdot. The number system allowed for differently blending varieties with the cab sav without relabelling the wine each year.
The "Dry Red No 2" is a Sharz dominate wine, whilst the Dry Red No 3 is based on Portuguese grape varieties with Touriga Naçional dominant with Tinta Cão, Tinta Roriz, Tinta Amaraela, Alavarelhão and Sousão.
Much of this information was discussed with the staff at the cellar door as the tasting progressed.
Entering the cellar door there are a few people standing around the tasting table, I was greeted and informed that I could take a seat or welcome to stand, I elected to take a seat on the long table to the left and requested a spittoon. As I put down the camera and opened my notebook I realised I was not alone on this side of the room. A cat was sitting under the window at the other end of the table mostly ignoring the people coming and going. I was later to learn that the cat's name was Condalisa, the name inspiring a bit of a chat. With a stainless steel wine bucket and a tasting glass on the table, the first taste was poured.
2012 Yarra Yering Dry White No. 1
A Semillon dominate wine (87%) with Chardonnay (13%) from 20 year old vines, with primary and malolactic fermentation in old oak barrels. The nose is toasty with green apple and ripe peach, to taste the green apple, stone fruit as promised by the nose as well as a zippyness of citrus.
2012 Yarra Yering Chardonnay
From original 1969 plantings, indigenous yeast primary fermentation and allowed malolactic fermentation in French oak (40% new), in barrel for 18 months. The colour is light straw, the nose I detected ripe white peach, a whiff of cardamom and the toasty influences from the oak. To taste again delivers the characters detected on the nose with a dry cleansing finish.
2012 Yarra Yering Dry Red No. 1
The 2012 is made from 5 grape varieties, in volume order; Cabernet Sauvignon (54%), Merlot (22%), Malbec (15%), all from 1969 plantings with Petit Verdot (8.3%) and Carmenere (0.7%). Each variety in this wine is fermented separately in the bespoke 600kg 'tea chest' fermenters. Each year new French oak is used, with the must allowed malolactic fermentation within these Bordeaux shaped barrels where it resides for 20 months in an underground cellar, prior to blending and bottling. The nose of this wine has quite intense strawberries, with plumbs and pouch tobacco. The taste deliveries an unexpected lightness of weight with the berries and plummy fruit with a cleansing acidity.
It was by about this time that a fellow visitor, less interested in the wines than their partner became interested in Condalisa (the cat). Despite advice from the staff, this individual was determined to give Condalisa some love, she (yes the cat) had other ideas. With the visitor now under no illusions and Condalisa now sheltering under one of the side board tables to reduce access the cellar door returned to focusing on wine.
2012 Yarra Yering Dry Red No. 3
A wine made from Portuguese varieties planted in 1990 on the southern most part of the vineyard and a rocky terraced hillside of Warramate hills. The wine comprises of Touriga Naçional (45%), Tinta Cão (28%), Tinta Roriz (9%), Tinta Amaraela (7%), Alavarelhão (7%) and Sousão (4%). The nose has deep rich scents of ripe blood plum and blackberries, as well as fragrant tobacco leaf. To taste the wine gives a full mouth feel and weight delivering the promised plummy-berryness and the hints for tobacco with acidity that balances the wine.
2012 Yarra Yering Underhill Shiraz
A Shiraz from 1973 plantings, this vineyards was acquired from a neighbour in the 1990's. The Underhill vineyard has heavy clay soils influencing the grapes toward a darker fruit and spice. The nose is ripe blood plums, spices and tobacco, to taste the wine deliverers the fruit and spice characters with these flavours lingering on the finish.
2012 Yarra Yering Dry Red No. 2
This blend consists of Shiraz (97.8%), Viognier (1%), Mataro (0.7%) and Marsanne (0.5%), these varieties are sourced from the "battle blocks" of Blenheim, Watherloo, Salamanca and Corunna planted between 1995 and 2000, the wine includes old vine Shiraz planted in 1969. The nose has elegant fragrance of plumb blossom, ripe fruit and spices with notes of tobacco. To taste the wine delivers balanced fruit with soft tannins and pleasantly lingering finish.
2012 Yarra Yering Agincourt
Usually a Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot blend the 2012 is Cabernet Sauvignon (69%) and Malbec (31%) blend. The nose is deep plums and spiciness with the wine delivering a weighty full fruit mouth feel with plumbs, blackcurrents and herby tobacco notes.
2007 Yarra Yering Agincourt
An opportunity to taste the Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot blend. The nose has a fragrant spiciness with a jammy plumbs, dried green leaf herbs with a touch of pouch tobacco. To taste the wine delivers bright fruit flavours, with a herbaceous spiciness - like detecting a whiff of pipe smoke in a herb shop.
2006 Yarra Yering Potsorts
This fortified wine is blended from the same varietals as the Dry Red No. 3 with some added Brandy spirit. This unique fortified is bright red (no 'browish' tinge), the nose has the distinctive fortified aroma of warm stewed fruits with spices. To taste this fortified delivers the fruit character with the warmth of the spirit, with a lingering savoury finish. Very nice.
- Yarra Yering was founded by Dr Bailey Carrodus planting the first vines in 1969 with the first commercial release in 1973.
- Dr Carrodus for many decades tended the vineyards and made the wines alone in winery. In doing so designed and developed the winery to work to his methods and exacting standards. An example of these developments were the bespoke small half tonne, square, stainless steel lined fermentation boxes called "tea chest" fermenters.
- Today the vineyards host 26 different grape varietals on site, all low yielding, dry grown (unirrigated) vines. Some of these are: Chardonnay, Semillon, Viognier, Mataro, Marsanne, Touriga Naçional, Tinta Cão, Tinta Roriz, Tinta Amaraela, Alavarelhão, Sousão, Pinot Noir, Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot, Merlot, Malbec and Camenere
- Paul Bridgeman was the winemaker at Yarra Yering from Dr Carrodus' passing in September 2008 until his move to Leventine Hill in 2013. Sarah Crowe arrived at Yarra Yering in September 2013 to take on the role of head winemaker.
- Dr Carrodus had no living heir upon his passing, therefore Yarra Yering was sold under strict instruction that the acquirer would manage the vineyard and the winery ensuring the approach and wine styles developed by Dr Carrodus would endure. Yarra Yering was sold to private investors This Century Pty Ltd in 2009.
- The Cellar Door at Yarra Yering is open from 10 till 5pm Monday to Saturday and from 11am to 5pm on Sunday's and public holidays. There is a $10 charge per head for tastings, redeemable with any wine purchase.
I gained more than I bargained for at Yarra Yering. With recommendations that it was a must visit winery, not with a great deal of reasons, it was who was doing the recommending that was so encouraging. Appreciating the reputation of the wines, yet without contextual knowledge such as the history or the intriguingly quirky (the word used at the time was 'eccentric') founder Dr Carrodus upon setting out to the vineyard.
The cellar door is welcoming and warm, important for the time of year visited (June) with knowledgable and friendly cellar door staff providing the context of the wines and a few antidotes relevant throughout the tasting proved informative and entertaining.
With Yarra Yering's premium peers (for instance Yeringberg or Mount Mary) without a publicly available cellar door, having access to taste these wines is a very special opportunity.
On a 'critical' note, I do wonder in a busier cellar door in the warmer months, if the visit would be as informative - as the visitor is dependant on the staff to provide the information. Whilst there are printed detailed information and tasting notes for the wines, the cellar door doesn't have the historic information in print that I could identify. A wish would be to have photo's and some information available of the unique aspects of the Yarra Yering winery such as the tea chest fermenters and any other details that made the winery operation unique.
One final piece of advice to anyone, especially cat lovers visiting Yarra Yering, don't mess with Condalisa.
Yarra Yering Vineyard
4 Briarty Road
Gruyere Victoria 3770
(03) 5964 9267