If you have been following me on Instagram, you would have seen my photos from my (not too) recent Melbourne trip. Even though I have been to the amazing city on multiple occasions, it was actually the first time I rented a car to get around - I have always had the privilege of my friends chauffeuring me around but I did not want to bother them this time round. As part of my Melbourne 2016 trip, I visited one of the most charming vineyards around in Yarra Valley, Domaine Chandon.
I stayed at the beautiful Hilton Melbourne South Wharf for the whole week while I was in Melbourne - I have stayed here once when I attended a close friend's wedding in 2014 and have been thinking about revisiting ever since (check out my review of the property here!). The drive down to Yarra Valley from South Wharf took approximately an hour on the M1 Freeway - do note that tolls do apply on these roads and it is recommended for you to prepay these tolls.
The drive there is pretty straightforward and fuss-free so I would highly recommend for you to rent a car and get there yourself. The only downside? You will have to nominate a driver who will not be able to partake in the drinking (well, in copious amounts anyway). One of the things I love about driving in Melbourne (or Australia in general) is how quickly you go from city life to impressive and scenic nature landscapes. Sure the city is a mess to get around and drivers seem to be relatively impatient but once you get out of that mad zone, you will be faced with acres and acres of lush greenery, blue skies as well as plenty of grazing animals.
While there is no need to rent a GPS if you have Google Maps installed, you may consider one if you would like more specific instructions while driving (e.g. which lane to stay on so you can actually make a turn without crashing into anyone or anything). I have found the Domaine Chandon relatively easy to locate and like I have mentioned, drivers are generally nicer once you get out of the main city area.
Once you get in the compounds of Domaine Chandon, feel free to park in any one of the parking lots (the lots are huge in Australia!) and head down to the main structure for your tour of the area (self-guided or otherwise). In case it is your first time to Domaine Chandon, here's a little summary on what to expect (in my personal order of importance):
- Enjoy the Moment
- Taste and Buy Wine
- Improve Wine Knowledge
- Photo Opportunity
I think many people come to vineyards and expect something to happen. Perhaps there are tours that will take you around the vineyards and maybe even allow you to pick from the vine if you pay enough but honestly, visiting them is more about being there in the moment. It is best not to worry how much you are going to spend or how to best utilise your time there but rather just walk, discover and be spontaneous.
Since I visited the vineyard on my own, most of my knowledge on the Domaine Chandon is sourced from the internet or at the site itself. If you find the name Chandon familiar, chances are that you have already heard of Moët & Chandon (how could you not?!). Towards the end of 1980s, Chandon Australia was born through the desire to explore other wine-growing regions around the world. The sparkling wine varietals here at Chandon Australia are made using the 'traditional Champagne method' and it is considered to be one of the best vineyards in the Victoria region.
Feel free to take a walk around Domaine Chandon and check out the huge compound (over 30 hectares of space!). Attracting over 200,000 visitors each year, the Domaine Chandon also allows visitors to learn more about the wine-making process through an immersive tour of the vineyard's facilities - guided tours can also be organised by appointment. Take your time to check out the different stages of wine-making right from the moment they decide which grapes to pick and how to process them separately.
The tasting bar and cellar door is open every day (except Christmas Day and Boxing Day) from 10.30am until 4.30pm. Organised tours and large groups by appointment only.
When I visited on a weekday on my own, the whole space was quite vacant and there was plenty of time and opportunity to learn more about wine-making. In fact, at every section of the tour, there are interactive screens that have been installed - these will walk you through the basic wine-making process which I thought was pretty insightful.
After you are done touring the estate, take a walk down to the main area for a wine flight and some food. I thought that the food quality was quite good but it's definitely on the steeper side - be expected to pay approximately AU$120-150 for two adults (inclusive of starter, main and a wine flight each).
I opted for the Chandon Sparkling Range Tasting (AU$23 per flight) which came with a selection of four different sparkling varietals. While waiting for the food to come, I have also opted for some bread which seemed like a bad idea the moment it was served onto the table - the bread was served cold and the butter was pretty average. I would probably advise you to skip the bread (I can't remember how much it was but it was probably AU$3-5) and focus on the mains instead. The range tasting on the other hand was pretty delightful - it also came with some tasting notes to help you understand what you were drinking. For my choice of sampling range, I had the Vintage Blanc de Blancs 2012, Vintage Brut 2012, Sparkling Pinot Shiraz (which was my personal favourite!) and the Cuvée Riche.
I initially picked the Spatchcock for my choice of main but was quickly advised against it (by the waitress) as it was 'just chicken' according to her. I then selected the classic Beef Bourguignon (AU$38) instead which was fork-tender and really delicious - plus it goes perfect with that Sparkling Pinot Shiraz from my wine flight. The beautiful aroma from the slow-cooked beef, onions and that dash of red wine just makes this dish an incredibly enjoyable one. I'm sure the view played a major part as well but the execution on this dish was definitely commendable.
The Creamy Truffle Scented 3 Cheese Risotto (AU$34) is also something to watch out for - it's simple but so elegantly executed and presented. I thought that the dish went really well with the Vintage Blanc de Blancs as well. In fact, if you are a vegetarian or have certain dietary requirement, The Creamy Truffle Scented 3 Cheese Risotto is the perfect dish to order.
It is also worth noting that the restaurant changes the menu from time to time in order to reflect the best produce they can source for so this menu may change when you visit. For the most up-to-date information, I would strongly recommend you to reach out to Chandon personally to find out if there is something you need to know (or even to make sure that they are serving something that adheres to your dietary requirements).
If you are ever in Melbourne but do not know which vineyard in Yarra Valley to visit, I would definitely recommend the Domaine Chandon - it's a safe bet and while the food and drinks are comparatively more expensive, it actually isn't that bad when you consider the whole package.