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Balgownie Estate

Simon Wiener
12 May 2018 | Vineyard Information | Simon Wiener

A Brief History of the Yarra Valley

The singular landscape of the Yarra Valley has an extensive history of providing a unique environment for agricultural and leisure activities. Long before the European settlement of the country, the Wurundjeri people occupied the lands around the Yarra Valley, centred on the Yarra River. Their dreamtime stories tell how the river was etched into the landscape by the ancestral creator spirit Bunjil - the wedge tailed eagle (

Pastoralists came quickly to the Yarra Valley and vineyards often formed part of the farming that was established in the area. In 1838 the Ryrie brothers planted the first vineyards in the area at their property known today as Chateau Yering. The property was purchased by the swiss-born Paul de Castella in 1850 and he dramatically expanded the vineyard plantings, importing vines from Chateau Lafite in France.

Other famous Yarra Valley vineyards were also established at this time, with Paul’s brother Hubert de Castella planting St Huberts in 1863 and Guillame de Pury establishing Yeringburg in 1864. The ensuring reputation for the quality of Yarra Valley wine rested heavily on these producers and “despite their disappearance in the 1920s, their fond memory would linger… and would lead in no small part to the restoration of the vine to its rightful place in the Valley in the 1970s.” (Beeston, 1995).

Despite there being almost 1000 acres under vine, the turn of the century brought difficult times to the Yarra Valley as a multitude of factors combined to effectively spell the end of wine production in the area. In the late 1890s the vine louse phylloxera was detected at Geelong and with no cure other than prevention it quickly laid waste to vineyards of Victoria and New South Wales. This coupled with onset of the depression and a change of fashion to favour the heavily alcoholic wines from the warm areas in Rutherglen and South Australia, effectively spelt the end of the Yarra Valley as a wine producing area. The final vineyards were removed in the 1920s as pasture for milk production proved to be more financially viable.

The Yarra Valley would need to wait till the 1960s for the re-emergence of vineyards and wine production. Reg Egan, a Melbourne lawyer formed the vanguard, planting his vineyards at Wantirna in the outer eastern suburbs of the city in 1963. 1968 saw the reestablishment of St Huberts, as the Cester family replanted the vineyards and in 1969 the de Pury family replanted vines at Yeringburg. The year also saw botanist Dr. Bailey Carrodus establish Yarra Yering and Jack and June Church plant the nearby Warramate.

The rush to plant in the Yarra Valley continued with Dr. John Middleton selecting land at Coldstream and planting Mount Mary in 1971. Dr. Peter McMahon preferred the slopes of the hills at Seville and established Seville Estate in 1972. Graeme Miller a diary farmer, planted vines at Dixon’s Creek in 1971 and established Chateau Yarrinya (now Debortoli Yarra Valley).

The rush of planting continued into the 1980 with the establishment of famous names such as Diamond Valley, Yarra Burn, Tarrawarra and Coldstream Hills. The establishment of new properties continued through the 1990s and 2000s with more than 40 new wineries being opened,  confirming the Yarra Valley as the nations premier cool climate wine producing area.


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