Many chefs are drawn to visiting the Yarra Valley due to its well deserved reputation for great food and wine. And Paddy (who has just qualified as a chef) and his girlfriend Jess decided to get away to the Yarra Valley over Easter to sample the best of what we have to offer. They sensibly came to us at Tour the Valley so we could put together a personalised itinerary for them enabling them to thoroughly switch off and relax and let us do the driving and navigating while they made the most of all that was on offer.
They were staying centrally at The Grand Hotel in Healesville so as to be in easy reach of all the wineries and restaurants and we collected them from their hotel and by 10.10am they were sipping their first rose wine at Dominique Portet. We love taking guests to Dominique Portet, as it's like a little bit of France in the Yarra Valley. Father (Dominique) and son (Ben) are 9th and 10th generation winemakers who have studied and lived all over the world in their pursuit of making the finest wines. Next time Paddy and Jess visit the Yarra Valley they should have a bite to eat here at Dominique Portet as they serve 'simple lunches from the finest artisanal ingredients' and you can book a tour of the barrel room and winery.
With both Paddy and Jess being lovers of good wine Joan decided to take them next to Chandon, for a sparkling tasting after which they took their time over a glass of their favourite sparkling (bought some more for later) and enjoyed the atmosphere and great view. With their history firmly steeped in the grand Champagne house Moët & Chandon, this winery too has its French connection, and the label Chandon is synonymous with style and finesse. There is so much to see at Chandon, from a self guided tour of the winery, a peep in at the barrel room, to trying their new release Chandon S, a blend of Chandon Sparkling with hand-crafted Orange Bitters, over ice with a twist of orange. Who would have thought the Champagne Cocktail would have a resurgence?!
Paddy had specifically asked to lunch at Oakridge Wines (understandably with Matt Stone and Jo Barrett on the pans in the kitchen) so Joan arranged it in advance and dropped them off for a wine tasting at the impressive cellar door before they sat down to a special three-course Easter Saturday lunch which they absolutely loved. Since Matt Stone and partner Jo Barrett joined Oakridge in July 2015, the restaurant has won an armload of awards and the pair have established 500 square metres of vegetable gardens across the property, and compost all their green waste. Many chefs make a token gesture of picking herbs and veg from the garden in front of guests, but Matt and Jo are genuine foragers and fervently believe in ethical sustainable food practices. They are even living in a prototype Joost Bakker off-grid, self-sustaining house with solar panels, a nine-metre atrium with an aquaponic system, and soil-loaded green roofs, so the house produces organic food. There's a great article in the AFR about it.
Needing a palate cleanse after lunch, Joan whisked them off to the humble cellar door of Watts River Brewery in Healesville for a cleansing ale where brewers Aaron & Ben have set up their own brewery with over 11 years industry brewing experience, and run it with their wives Emily & Hanna. The cellar door is a homely place, you're served by one of the owners, they know their beers inside out and it's pet friendly so there's often a kelpie or two wandering around. After a cleansing ale Joan took them 1 minute up the road to Four Pillars Gin Distillery, also family owned by Cam McKenzie a much loved character in the Yarra Valley who has been around the traps for years (previously at Punt Road, then Innocent Bystander). He's often on the floor giving tours of the gin stills (say hello to Bertha next time you visit) or telling punters how he makes his aromatics. Paddy & Jess had a really informative gin tasting washed down with a beautiful gin and tonic and before you knew it they'd bought some gin to enjoy later. Few people make it out of Four Pillars empty handed, there's usually a purchase or two!!
By this point, everyone was read for a bit of a nana nap so Joan dropped them back to their accommodation where they were happily going to hit the hay for a while, before probably venturing out later for some nibbles and a glass of wine. Healesville is a great town for that as you can walk to dinner and with souvlaki, fish and chips, chef-hatted Healesville Hotel, Thai/Japanese and Indian, not to mention paella at Innocent Bystander, fine dining with an Asian hint at Giant Steps and gourmet burgers at Monroe's - there really is something for everyone when it comes to dining out.
The pair had enjoyed a great day out in the beautiful Yarra Valley filled and were happy they had go to experience so many different offerings.
We'd love to show then more of the Yarra Valley next time they want to visit - as we really do have so much to offer food and wine lovers. In fact they'd better come for a week and we'll start putting an itinerary together for them now!!! If you like the sound of this food lovers tour, why not fill in our questionnaire so we can start to put together an itinerary for you?