Outside of Melbourne, settlement in the Yarra Valley represented a very significant segment in the history and economic development of the state of Victoria.
In the 1850s, the region was on the bustling route to the Warburton goldfields. The Yarra River was also the main traffic path for the timers industry during the 1890s, as such, it was developed as the primary food production region for Melbourne.
The Yarra River or ‘Birrarung’, as it is known to the Indigenous Wurundjeri people means 'Place of Mists and Shadows', played a huge role in the development of Melbourne which was rapidly growing up around its banks. The Wurundjeri people have occupied the lands around the Yarra Valley for at least 30,000 years and the Yarra River was a life source. Their Dreamtime stories tell us that the river was etched into the landscape by the ancestral creator spirit Bunjil - the wedge-tailed eagle.
Beginning with the Victorian gold rush it was extensively mined, creating the Pound Bend Tunnel in Warrandyte, and the Big and Little Peninsula Tunnels above Warburton. These can be visited today. Widening and dams, like the Upper Yarra Reservoir, have helped protect Melbourne from major flooding. The Upper reaches of the Yarra Valley remain very important for Melbourne’s fresh water supply and feed close to 70% of all inflows.
The Yarra Valley was also Victoria's first wine-growing district – with a history stretching back nearly 180 years. Vines were first planted in 1838 by the Ryrie brothers, on their property known today as Chateau Yering. Viticulture spread rapidly through the 1860s and 1870s, led by the early settlers including the de Castella and de Pury families, who were exporting local wines to the British and European markets and were winning awards around the world. However, increased demand for fortified wine saw Yarra Valley wine production cease in 1921. Replanting began in the late 1960s and by the early 1990s, the acreage under vines hit a high.
Today it is recognised as one of the world's leading cold climate wine growing regions, with internationally known names such as Domaine Chandon, St Huberts, De Bortoli, Yering Station, Oakridge and Coldstream Hills.
By the turn of the 20th century, the region was serviced by a rail
link to the city and became the playground of holidaymakers looking to
escape the city.
Just as the Yarra Valley was ripe for grape picking, so too was it
for hops, and in the 1800s, hops farming was big business. While beer
and cider products trailed behind wine for many years, today the Yarra
Valley is home to award-winning craft breweries and distilleries. You
won't need to go far to find an incredible microbrewery serving up a
great meal paired with a cold brew.
New-generation gins, rums, vodkas and whiskeys are popping up and making their mark, especially the renowned Four Pillars Distillery, regularly named by the International Wine and Spirits Competition in London as the World's Best Gin.
There are always tastings and masterclasses taking place in the region, check out our What's On event listings for more.
It just makes sense with the exceptional drink and produce found in the region, the award-winning food would follow. Culinary tourists adore the Yarra Valley for its ever-evolving offering of award-winning restaurants and dining experiences. The region is regularly recognised as one of Victoria's favourite regional dining destinations.
It's also packed with exceptional fresh speciality producers such as cheesemakers, chocolatiers and more.
Today, it's a popular destination for visitors and locals alike to indulge their tastebuds at fine dining establishments to contemporary cafes or farm gates. From high tea experiences to a cold microbrew with a hearty pub meal, you'll find exactly what you're craving in the Yarra Valley.