The Canberra District is fast becoming a significant wine region in Australia, with more than 140 vineyards producing an exceptional line up of wine varieties.
Many people are aware of the bigger names, but there are a growing number of hidden gems among more than 30 cellar doors in the region. One of them is Yarrh Wines.
Yarrh Wines is located in Murrumbatemen, but it’s off the beaten track, so you have to take a little scenic drive to find it. They have a low intervention winemaking philosophy, use sustainable growing techniques and soil health is a big priority.
They revamped their cellar door, making the most of COVID-19 restrictions towards the end of 2020. I recently visited to try their Autumn Winemaker’s Sail that includes four wine tastings matched with a selection of autumn-inspired food tastings.
The Autumn Winemaker’s Sail is $30, but the price can vary with the seasons, depending on the wines included in the tasting.
(Note to self, you need to make a booking if you want to try the Winemaker’s Sail.)
As I step out of the car, the beauty and peacefulness of the vineyard with the Yass River, valley and rolling hills in the background automatically strike me. I take a moment to soak it up. As I do, I hear the sound of at least four different species of birds softly singing around me.
The sun-filled cellar door has large glass windows surrounding it to make the most of the gorgeous outdoor views. As I enter, the smiling faces of Yarrh Wines co-owner Fiona, and Kimberley, who works at the cellar door and is also a chef, meet me.
Fiona is the incredible winemaker behind Yarrh Wines. She runs the winery with her husband, Neil, who takes care of the vineyard. The pair established Yarrh Wines in 1997, planted a number of grapevines over several years and officially opened the doors to the winery in 2004.
The name itself highlights their winemaking philosophy and their connection to the land. Fiona tells me about it as I sip on the riesling, tasting floral notes and aromas of citrus blossom and apple. It’s matched with a perfectly cooked scallop wrapped in prosciutto that’s served with a garlic and citrus sauce with a crispy pastry puff.
“Yarrh is Aboriginal for running water. When Hamilton Hume and William Hovell came to the area in 1824, they referred to the area around Yass as Yarrh. Hovell recorded it in his journal and the way we spell Yarrh is the way he spelt it.
“The story is that they sent a tracker ahead to see what he could see. He came back and said I can see yarrh (running water), which is the water we take to be the Yass River that flows through our valley. So we were looking for a connection to the area, and we thought Yarrh would be a good name,” she said.
They even invited one of the Ngunnawal elders to do a Welcome to Country when they opened.
As I sip on the pinot noir and tuck into the confit duck with chargrilled tomato that sits on a smear of basil sauce and balsamic, Fiona tells me how she looks after her wine through the growth phase to the making process.
“Our wines are estate grown and bottled so we do everything on site. The wines express the place we have here. They’re very easy drinking and very approachable wines.
“We make our own compost and that’s the main way we feed the vines to get the soil as healthy as it can be. The skins and stalks from the winery go back into the compost and back onto the vineyard.
“If the grapes are healthy then they’re able to produce the best wines they can. It makes it easier to make the best wines without having to make many adjustments in the winery,” she said.
Next up is the sangiovese, one of my favourite wine varieties. Fiona tells me that it’s their most popular wine, and as soon as I taste it, I understand why (I purchased a bottle on my way out).
It’s a smooth, medium-bodied wine with sour cherry and savoury notes that work well with the baked brie, caramelised onion and pomegranate coulis. Fiona explains what makes their sangiovese so special.
“We have four different clones in the vineyard. Two of the clones help provide structure and weight to the vine, and the other two clones provide more fruitiness and life to the wine. So together, the wines make a really nice, easy-drinking, fruit-driven wine with some interest and longevity.”
I finish with the hero red of the Canberra District, the shiraz.
It’s elegant and balanced with a little spice that matches nicely with the seared kangaroo fillet with sweet potato and shiraz jus.
The food was served cold and, at first, I was a little surprised, but it didn’t alter the experience and each of the creations matched the wines perfectly.
Get in quick if you want to taste the Autumn Winemaker’s Sail as the winter sail launches in early June. If you’re not up for the full wine flight or forget to book, you can choose from a trio of dips, a cheese board, or the grazing board.
Yarrh Wines is located at 440 Greenwood Rd, Murrumbateman. The cellar door is open from 11:00 am to 5:00 pm Friday to Sunday. You can find their wines online and in select independent bottle shops in Canberra and the region.