The mofo guide to | Yarra Valley
Are we allowed to have favourites? If we are, the Yarra Valley would be in the running… especially considering it’s a hop, skip and a jump away from Mofo HQ - just 45km northeast of Melbourne’s CBD. We’re pretty much neighbours, and you’ll find many a mofo heading there on a weekend to enjoy the gorgeous scenery and even more gorgeous wines.
Home to some of the most exciting winemaking in Australia, they continue to surprise us and deliver deliciousness, vintage after vintage. So what do you need to know? Here’s the downlow.
Broadly the Yarra Valley is considered a “cool climate” region, but the reality is that the range of elevation, soils and climatic conditions means a whole heap of diverse and dynamic winemaking happens here. Lovely stuff.
The Yarra Valley’s split into two distinct growing areas - Upper and Lower - with Lower Valley generally warmer, and the Upper Valley cooler due to that altitude (with vineyards sitting up to 400 metres above sea level). The soils are also split north-to-south too, with the north predominantly a sandy-loam, and the south a volcanic red-granite. Those hills also offer important variations in aspect, determining how much sunshine those lil’ grapes get during the growing season - plus there’s distinct microclimates in the valley too, informed by exactly where they sit. So yeah, a bit going on!
Those conditions means the vignerons have a rich tapestry to work with, even if it sometimes leaves them scratching their heads with what to make of all this variety on offer.
That said, pinot noir and chardonnay are the dominant mofos here, representing about two-thirds of what’s planted. Shiraz and cab sav also thrive here, particularly in the warmer pockets - but we did mention variety, didn’t we? These local classics have been joined by varieties like sauvignon blanc, pinot gris/grigio, nebbiolo, arneis, gamay, tempranillo, sangiovese, merlot, malbec… we could be here all day.
But - sound the “sobering moment of reflection” klaxon - we’re incredibly lucky that grapes are there at all. Even though it was the first Victorian wine region to be planted in the 1800s, the arrival of phylloxera meant that winemaking had very nearly died out prior to a revival in the 1960s - and it continues to be an issue in the region today, in addition to the challenges of climate change.
The good news is that same intrepid spirit of 60s Yarra Valley lives on, with winemakers experimenting with different techniques and varietals whilst staying true to what the Yarra Valley is all about - cool, considered finesse. So pour one out, and raise a toast to those that persevered.
All of that range and variety means that it’s no small task to describe a “typical” Yarra Valley wine, but here's some pretty broad strokes on what you can expect.
After the reviled “anything but chardonnay era” of big, buttery and flabby chards, winemakers in the Yarra Valley were at the vanguard of the more modern styles we know and can’t get enough of today. With Yarra Valley chardonnay you’ll find a more restrained use of oak, MLF and lower alcohol - and typically more fine boned, textural focus on site expression and fruit purity. As a cool climate you’ll find these sitting more towards that citrus end of the chardy scale, ranging through to stone fruit in warmer sites, underpinned by a clean, mineral finish. You’ll also find chardy employed in Yarra Valley bubbles too - Chandon being a notable presence making traditional method sparkling in the Valley.
Like chardy, Yarra Valley pinot noir is more “modern” in style - light through to medium bodied, silky tannins and texture. Whole bunch ferments aren’t uncommon, drawing out aromatic florals and bright red fruits whilst also preserving those more savoury characters. And given the variations in growing sites, you’re likely to see the full spectrum of flavours in pinot noir coming out of the Yarra Valley - from perfumed, fruit forward and light, to deep, structured and savoury. Heaps to discover.
Generally found in the warmer sites in the northern valley (with a few exceptions) cab sav is typically more restrained than the styles you’ll see coming out of Coonawarra and McLaren Vale, with silky tannins, aromatic and floral with those telltale cabby herbal characters - “elegant” is the buzzword of the day with this one.
Like pinot, you’ll see the full range of what shiraz is capable of in the Yarra Valley, with the grape generally preferring the lower, warmer sites. You’ll find that classic Yarra Valley restraint on full display on those bottles labelled “syrah”, indicating the winemaker has chosen to focus on producing a more savoury, smoky, medium-bodied style of shiraz. That said though, you’ll still find big and bold on show here, if you know where to look. The Yarra Valley can do it all.
Keen to sip and explore the latest and greatest we've found in the Yarra Valley? Check out the range here.