I’m sitting at the bar in central Melbourne’s Rockpool Bar & Grill as the impeccably turned-out bartender serves up an exclusive gin and tonic mix. He gracefully pours from a red and white labelled blend, before adding slices of fresh grapefruit – a tangy and colourful southern hemisphere take on the classic lemon combo.
One hour away in the verdant Yarra Valley, the Four Pillars distillery is creating its full spectrum of five gin releases while dozens of vineyards produce some of the world’s most revered wines.
30,000 feet up high, Qantas is taking these distinct offerings to the skies.
Four Pillars worked with the Rockpool mixology team and Qantas to create an exclusive on-board blend for future international flights, – the second drink in their Bartender Series called ‘Modern Australian Gin’ – in line with the Asian inspire fusions of owner and top chef, Neil Perry. With the finest of ingredients sourced locally, this Gin blend takes on similar warming flavours using Asian spices of green Szechuan and quandong with touches of apple and, of course, grapefruit.
The world-renowned wines of Yarra Valley are also introduced to you before you even land in Victoria. On the London to Melbourne flight, I had the chance to sample more than one of the Yarra Valley’s finest grape varieties to accompany Neil Perry’s inspired in-flight menu in Premium Economy. Those in first class can peruse the best picks from 13 wineries, and eight varieties can be found in Business Class.
The Qantas food and drink offering on-board is the amuse bouche, and Melbourne the starter, to the entree of indulgent flavours of the Yarra Valley – a region which has become a go-to destination for food and wine lovers visiting Victoria.
The cooler climate harbors manicured shires of rolling green layers, flanked by the hazy silver mountainous backdrop and a piercing blue sky, creating a picture of nature’s immaculacy. Here, some of the finest botanicals are selected for the production of artesian spirits and exquisitely neat rows of vineyards mark out some of the best terroir in the country, home to cellars of world-renowned wines and some of the region’s most revered eateries.
Driving through this area is to circle the soft curves of the hilly topography, whose serenity provokes multiple stops amongst its 150 or more wineries, hip distilleries and acres of gardens. You could spend days getting lost within it, or leisurely touch the surface on a day-trip from Melbourne.
Lunch and wine tasting at the distinguished Oakridge was a mere 90-minute drive from the very centre of the city – an outstanding, award-winning winery with a restaurant and plentiful cellar door wines. The wine accompanies all manner of organic fruits, vegetables and herbs, which are served with fresh meats and seafood on a menu rotation that is determined by the availability of the finest produce that burgeons in the sun-kissed valley.
There’s more than just fine dining and wine pairing though, as I soon found out when I had the chance to try my hand at wine making at the Dominique Portet winery. This ninth generation winery brings a Bordeaux touch to the Yarra Valley, with a legacy of famed red wine making. By tasting a Shiraz and a Cabernet Sauvignon, I was asked to mix the two together in a giant test tube to whatever percentage ratio I chose. It turns out I mixed a blend to the exact proportions as their best selling red wine (but I can’t give that away because you must try it for yourself).
On many occasions, the mere sipping on a crisp and fruity chardonnay, a powerfully fruity Pinot Noir, or a sparking rose, while relaxing on the outdoor wooden deck or a simple solitary bench that overlooks the orderly vines, is all the serenity you need to enjoy this canvas of finery. Unless you choose to immerse yourself in the beauty of this wilderness landscape further with an overnight stay in a tucked away cottage.
The two years young Four Pillars distillery is an added bonus to the traditionally acclaimed wine country landscape. Set within a former timber yard, the tastings of dry, spicy and extra strength gin take place inside a cool room housing two grand copper distillers that are akin to time machines.
I later joined the hum of sophisticated spirit drinkers in the spacious white and wooden decked bar serving everything from gin paddles and gin based cocktails, complete with toast and marmalade made from the organic oranges used in the steamed batch of gin. Four kilograms of oranges are added to each botanical mix, and as the alcohol solution boils, the botanicals release their essential oils, which travel in the vapour and through the oranges, pulling out a unique citrus flavor.
My Yarra Valley journey had long been in fruition and my introduction to it had taken on many forms. From mile high to Melbourne land, you’ll soon find that the tastes of the Yarra Valley are tested and approved, long before you even step foot in it.