Yarra Valley Unicorns
After spending our morning at Domain Chandon with its sparkling wines, the next stop was to see how the French are also making Bordeaux blends in the cool climate Yarra Valley at Dominique Portet. The owner and winemaker Dominique Portet comes from an illustrious wine family - his father worked as the vineyard and winery manager at Château Lafite-Rothschild in Bordeaux and his brother, Bernard, heads the Clos du Val estate in Napa Valley. Before starting the Dominique Portet winery in 2000, he was a pioneer in bringing Australia's cool climate wine varsities to the forefront at Clover Hill, his sparkling wine house in Tasmania.
In the tasting room, we got to try the rosé, white and red wines. Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc are the main white varieties while Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz are the red ones. The Cabernets were definitely among my favorite, and were typical of the blends made in Bordeaux with Cabernet Sauvignon dominating with Merlot, Malbec and Petit Verdot making up the rest. We left with one of the Dominique Portet Cabernet Sauvignon for our cellar back in Tokyo.
The next stop was another estate that was high on my list to visit since it is James Halliday's estate, Australia's most renowned wine master. As soon as you walked into the tasting room, you could see his latest Halliday Wine Companion 2017, another essential book I had brought along with my for our trip to Australia. This winery like many others in Australia make wines from grapes grown on its property as well wines from grapes sourced from other areas in the Yarra Valley. Before heading into the tasting room, the estate had new vines that were just starting to establish their roots. In the photos below, you can see one photo with these blue-green cylinder-like covers sticking up from the ground. These are called sleeves, and they're actually protecting the vines that are inside of them. The main reason for them is to make sure the vines can develop their root systems in peace without animals or birds disturbing them. The view from the balcony of the tasting room was just spectacular. You could seen the new vineyards, as well as the rest of the Yarra Valley stretching beyond the estate.
I had another amazing experience at this winery with the tasting room manager. I had my notebook on the counter, so he asked if I was studying wine. As soon as I told him I was going to write the WSET3 exam in about a month, he told me I had to do the tastings "properly." At most winery tastings, you get just once glass, and it gets refilled after each tasting. Instead of this, the manager brought out 3 glasses for me and poured me a flight of 3 different Pinot Noirs from different vintages. He then went through each one with me explaining how and why each one of them were different. Again, I was just so amazed at the the generosity of Australians in sharing their time and expertise with me about wine.
For the last stop of the day, our guide recommended we head to Helen & Joey that was nearby since we wouldn't have had time to go to a further vineyard since we wanted to avoid the traffic getting back into Melbourne in the evening. For our time in the Yarra Valley, we had a fantastic guide who was actually from California, so we got the best of two wine worlds in one day! As soon as we arrived at the entrance, I was immediately intrigued with the unicorn that stood outside.
Once inside the tasting room, the warmth was a welcomed relief since the sunny weather had quickly turned into rolling clouds and wailing winds while we were out on the balcony of the tasting room. Like Coldstream Hills, there were Chardonnays, Cabernet Merlot blends, Shiraz and Pinot Noirs to try from their estate. The 2015 Alena Pinot Noir was my absolute favorite that had red cherry and raspberry flavors with hints of chocolate and licorice. I have completely fallen in love with Australia's Pinot Noirs during this trip. Before we left, the winemaker popped into the tasting room for a few moments. Since my guide knew her, he introduced me to her, and we had a bit of a chat. I had asked her why the a unicorn was the estate's logo. She told me that the "official" reason was that "the unicorn, like wine, is an enigma; it is ambiguous, often puzzling, stunningly beautiful, subjective and like the Unicorn displays all things that we admire; strength, power and elegance." However, she also added that since her birthday was in November, she chose a unicorn since it is similar to her astrological sign, Sagittarius!