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History

Yarra Valley: the birthplace of Victoria's wine history

The Yarra Valley’s rich history spans more than 30,000 years. The Wurundjeri people are the region’s traditional landowners. Their name for the Yarra River, “Birrarung“, means “place of mists and shadows” – a phrase that perfectly encapsulates the enduring allure of this breathtaking region. According to the Aboriginal dreamtime story, a wedge-tailed eagle etched the Yarra River into the landscape to create the valley.

Today, the Yarra Valley is globally recognised as one of the world’s premier cool-climate wine regions. Nestled along this ancient riverbed and surrounded by the Great Dividing Range, it is home to 2,837 hectares of vineyards. Its large and diverse geography allows for variations in climates and soils where both classic varieties and an exciting array of emerging styles can thrive.

The first recorded vines were planted in the Yarra Valley by the Scottish-born Ryrie brothers in 1838, on their property known today as Yering Station. By the 1890s, many vignerons believed that pinot noir and cabernet from the Yarra Valley could rival their French counterparts, but in the 1920s and 1930s vineyard acreage diminished greatly. By 1937, there were no more commercial vineyards in existence. Dairying was proving to be much more profitable.

This lull in viticulture lasted until the 1960s when a new appetite for winegrowing saw the rise of vineyards again in the Yarra Valley. A new wave of plantings took place in response to the growing demand for boutique wines, with a focus on pinot noir, chardonnay and cabernet.

From small beginnings to global recognition

By 1973, the Yarra Valley vintage had reached a meaningful scale with many notable vineyards including Yarra Yering, Seville Estate and St Hubert’s now bearing fruit. Oakridge came into the piece early on during this resurrection when, in 1978, the first estate plantings were established by Horst “Jim” Zitzlaff on the site of a four-hectare cherry orchard in Wandin East (known today as our Five Oaks vineyard). The estate focused on growing cabernet sauvignon, merlot and a small amount of Rhine riesling.

Oakridge was at the forefront of reviving the Yarra Valley as a wine region in the early 1980s. The original concept of Oakridge was to produce a single wine each year, however in 1986 two distinct styles emerged – a rich complex cabernet sauvignon and a softer cabernet/ merlot blend. In his time as winemaker, Jim’s son Michael Zitzlaff set the standard, crafting a number of award-winning wines, among them a famous $100 merlot.

In 1998, the Zitzlaffs moved production to the current, more prominent location at Coldstream, and opened the winery and cellar door onsite. In 2001, the business was acquired by Margaret River-based Evans & Tate, which appointed David Bicknell to revitalise the winery at the vineyard in 2002. Between 2007 and 2021, Oakridge was once again a family-owned business under the ownership of the D’Aloisio/Atlas families, who transformed the venue into the modern piece of architecture you see today. Now part of the Endeavour Group, Oakridge Wines falls under the Paragon Wine Estates umbrella which manages a collection of award-winning and premium heritage wineries and wine brands in some of the finest growing regions around Australia and New Zealand. 

“The devil is in the detail.” ~ David Bicknell, Chief Winemaker

For just over two decades, with Chief Winemaker Dave Bicknell at the helm, Oakridge Winery has emerged as one of Yarra Valley’s leading producers of pinot noir and chardonnay. Uninhibited by the constraints of appellations, a sense of spirit and experimentation has allowed for trial and error, and a blend of innovation and tradition, all culminating in a distinct ‘Yarra Valley flavour’.

Dave’s mantra, ‘the devil is in the detail’, is reflected in his meticulous approach to working with the vineyards, and a near obsessive attention to detail in the winery. His focus and resolute nature have brought Oakridge to the forefront of Australia’s cool climate wine scene from the 2010s to the present day, as leading single site specialists.

This has also translated to an impressive trophy cabinet of significant awards and medals over the last ten years and more. Most notably, Dave was capped the 2017 Gourmet Wine Traveller Winemaker of the Year, and in 2021 our emblematic 864 Chardonnay received Halliday’s Top-Rated Australian Chardonnay award for our 2019 864 Funder & Diamond Chardonnay. In 2023, Oakridge received the Winery of the Year award from The Real Review.

Dave’s overarching ethos is to make wines of purity, clarity and balance. It all starts in the vineyard, where he works alongside Chief Viticulturist Steve Faulkner.  Our fruit is grown sustainably and is recognised by a Sustainable Winegrowing Australia certification in viticulture. Grapes are hand-picked and the wines hand-crafted with minimal intervention. The resulting flavours of each wine reflects and harmonises the character of each vineyard site, every vintage, and even the people who tend the vines and turn the grapes into wine.

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