Our day began with a short stroll from our Airbnb to the Marriott Hotel, where the tour van would be coming to pick us up. We were early, so we went for a cup of coffee in one of the many cafes nearby. It was a weekday and the place was full of busy corporate types, which made the prospect of an all-day drinking spree that much more exciting!
The van arrived at our meeting place on schedule. Our guide, Adrian, had a big smile on his face as he popped open the door to welcome us. After a few minutes spent picking up a some more passengers, we made our way out of Melbourne CBD. We were a party of ten, a stouthearted fellowship led by our very own Gandalf the gray, armed to the teeth with our cameras and bright-eyed in anticipation of the grape-guzzling to come.
The tour had officially begun. As we made our way out of the CBD, Adrian talked about some of the city's landmarks, deftly weaving a story about Melbourne's roots and the origins of its wine industry.
Our first stop, Coldstream Hills, was aptly named. It was a sunny day, but being the start of the tour there was still some social ice to break. After several sips and some friendly chatter, lips loosened and everyone warmed up. Outside was an expansive few of the valley, and as we headed back to the van we were greeted by a picturesquely perched Kookaburra.
I should say at this point that my wife and I are far from being wine connoisseurs. We never felt out of place though, as we quickly learned the differences between a sherry and a merlot, a cabernet sauvignon and a sauvignon blanc. Adrian and the other tour guests were always eager to share their knowledge, and their passion for wine was infectious!
The being said, we remember Medhurst Vineyard as the place where we had really good salad, hummus, feta cheese, and olives, all produce grown from their farm. I’m sure the wine was lovely, but the accompanying snack was for us, the highlight. We also appreciated how the folks from Medhurst talked about how they carefully cultivated their precious vines, and about how different areas of their property yielded grapes of different personalities.
If the name Domaine Chandon sounds familiar, it’s because their Moet-Chandon brand of sparkling wine is famous all around the world. It was a delightful experience raiding their cellars and tasting different bottles, with different profiles each fit for a celebration during certain times of the year. The bottle they recommended for Christmas, for example, had stronger notes of fruit and spice. We lingered at Domaine Chandon for a time as we sipped the bubbly al-fresco. And as we hopped on the van, everyone had a grin and a flushed face that betrayed the buzz we were already feeling by that time.
From there, we were off to Yering Station, where our group would be having lunch. Conversation around the table was animated as we chose our entrees and paired them each with a glass of wine. My wife and I, ignorant no longer, confidently picked the bottles we felt would go best. A glass of the 2016 pinot noir with my duck? Yes please. Red-faced and full, we then went to their cellar where a jovial representative from Yering Station shared his knowledge and liquored us up even more.
The last stop was our favourite, the perfect end to our tour. Look up De Bortoli Winery and you’ll see that they’re known for two things: dessert wine, and artisanal cheese. Gathered around a bar counter, we salivated as cheese platters were served and bottle after bottle of their sweetest wines were cracked open. The star of the show, undoubtedly, was the Noble One, a multi-awarded wine of the sweetest kind. You just want to keep drinking it; it’s THAT good. Paired with stronger cheeses, it’s a party in your palate.
And so with the last of our inhibitions out the cellar door, our inebriated little fellowship smacked its collective lips, bought bottles, snapped selfies, and groggily sauntered its way back home.
All in all, the whole experience was worth more than the price of admission. They delivered on all counts: glasses never empty, portions always plentiful, and the people always pleasant. Adrian was the ideal guide. By the end, we must have tasted over two dozen different wines, some of the best that the sun-soaked valley had to offer. Our day could not have gone any better.
I heartily recommend this tour for wine lovers, and for everyone else.
Some parting shots, if you're thinking of going on this tour:
- The exact tour we went on was this one, via Tripadvisor.
- Pace yourself. One sip can easily turn into more. It's a long day, and the best parts will be toward the end.
- If you do it in the fall or the winter, layer up. Once in the van or out in the sun you can shed some insulation, and bundle up when it gets cold. Melbourne weather can be erratic.
- Chat with your tour mates! One of our companions was an EMT from the UK, specializing in air rescue. They would respond to emergencies in remote british towns and swoop in helicopters to airlift patients to larger hospitals. One of our other companions was a local event emcee. We had a good chat about our job.