When I told friends I was going to Coldstream, they looked at me as if I’d grown another head. “There’s not much to see besides Dame Nellie Melba’s old place,” said one. Another was more blunt: “There’s nothing there. Why would you want to go?” Good question. But I wanted to check out some Coldstream wineries – Domaine Chandon and Dominique Portet – and so, rugged up on a misty morning (Coldstream regularly dips below 0 in winter), I set out to explore the area.
I had been told that Coldstream was the gateway to the Yarra Valley, but it is really the gateway to all the addictive substances the region offers - wine, cheese and chocolate among them. It’s also easy to get to from many parts of Victoria.
Urban sprawl gave way to green hills and vineyards as I drove from Melbourne. I blinked as I passed through the tiny township of Coldstream, and missed it.
But that didn’t matter as I was soon enjoying a wine tasting at Dominique Portet. The winery is a few minutes from the township; Portet, a ninth- generation French wine maker, established his label here in 2000. After toasting this smart move with a cold-climate chardonnay, it was time for a cheese fix in neighbouring Yering. Along the way, I glimpsed “Melba’s old place”, aka Coombe the Melba Estate. Dame Nellie Melba bought the grand Coldstream property in 1909 and it now includes a restaurant, cellar door and gallery featuring some of the opera singer’s personal effects. The idyllic garden - all 2.8 magnificently landscaped hectares of it - is the star attraction, though it’s accessible only by pre-booked guided tour. Some idiot hadn’t booked in; that’d be me. Ah well. I vowed to see it on a return trip and took a short drive up the Melba Hwy - named in her honour - to Yarra Valley Dairy.
The dairy looks like a couple of sheds in a paddock because, well, it is; the cheese shop is housed in a century-old milking shed. On a busy day, rapid-fire tastings at the cheese counter can leave you feeling like you’re on a production line: instead, slowly savour a dreamy, creamy goat- and cow-cheese platter in the rustic dining area, where you can graze while gazing at gorgeous pastoral views.
That’s something my friends were right about: there’s not much to see, except lush, well-maintained vineyards and tree-lined hills. When the mist lifts and the sun shines through, it’s magical.
Tip: get someone else to drive so you can be mesmerised by the view, especially if you’re going to Tarra Warra, about 10 minutes from the dairy. On the way you might spot Yarra Valley Chocolaterie and Ice Creamery, or at least the signs for it (there are plenty); stop off and watch the chocolatiers in action, decorating the chocolates that fill the children-clamoring, sensory-overloading, wallet-emptying shop.
TarraWarra Estate - home to a vineyard, restaurant and the TarraWarra Museum of Art - is the polar opposite, a quiet, soothing space with eye-popping architecture. Walk between two huge, curved walls and suddenly stunning hilly views appear, as if from nowhere; it’s a slightly surreal experience, and certainly a breathtaking one. The striking building is both modern and timeless, as if it had risen from the ground millennia ago. It’s no secret gem - the gallery regularly displays works by big-name Australian artists - and yet there’s a pervading feeling that you’re the first to discover it. It’s the highlight of the trip, though I’m not sure what I like better; the delectable estate-grown produce and wine, or the gallery, designed to frame the scenic views so that art takes a backseat to the architecture.
I ponder this en route to Healesville, intending to visit the wildlife sanctuary but get distracted by shops. After browsing through homewares, accessories and floral arrangements at Clarence, I get a sugar fix at Healesville Candy Emporium. Across the road is Barrique Wine Store, where I pick up some locally made Four Pillars Gin. Kitchen and Butcher is a few steps away; charcuterie, preserves and the delicious, locally made Kennedy and Wilson chocolate beg to be tasted. A little further, past Innocent Bystander cellar door and restaurant (another top spot for a meal), is Healesville Glassblowing Studio.
Back in Coldstream, I spot Coldstream Brewery, right in the township; nearby is an indoor pick-your-own strawberry farm. There isn’t time to see everything, and I’ve missed Domaine Chandon. But that’s OK – it gives me an excuse to return next weekend.
Local tip: Yering Station farmer’s market is held every third Sunday of the month.
Local tip: Get lost in 8ha of mazes and gardens at Hedgend Maze.
Show your RACV membership card in and around Healesville to save. Visit racv.com.au for more.
The photographs accompanying this article were taken by Daniel Pockett, a student at the Photography Studies College. RoyalAuto is working with the college to help students hone their skills. Daniel says a background in architectural drafting enhanced his photographic eye.