Finding a designated driver for a winery tour can be a struggle if you don’t have a teetotal mate. But new Yarra Valley “hop-on hop-off” service Hop It can help.
It’s by husband and wife team Jon and Sara Lee. “My wife and I are both from Europe, Sara is German and I’m from Wales … we regularly had family coming over from back home and we’d always take them up to the Yarra Valley,” says Jon. They thought it woud be ideal if they and their guests could get around the area without the pressure of one of them being the designated driver.
The couple noticed that traditional tours were often expensive and rigid. So by combining Jon’s 13 years working in hospitality with Sara’s background in tourism, they believed they had the skills to offer a solution.
Hop It is ideal for visitors looking to plan their day their own way. There’s a timetable and extensive stop list from which to craft an itinerary.
The journey begins at the Grand Hyatt Hotel in Melbourne’s CBD at 9.10am and then stops at Lilydale station at 9.50am. Further stops are at Yarra Valley Chocolaterie, Yering Station, The Taphouse, Punt Road Wines, Domaine Chandon and Healesville, among others. The final pick-up time is 4.33pm from Rochford Wines.
The current timetable focuses on the region’s larger producers, but in a few weeks’ time a new timetable will be launched servicing boutique wineries such as Pimpernel Vineyards, Boat O’Craigo and Medhurst Wines,.
Pick-up from Melbourne or Lilydale station is $59.95 on Thursday and Friday, and $69.95 on Saturday and Sunday. Two 11-seat Toyota vans run the route and there’s room for each guest to bring a small carry-on bag and space for wine purchases as you go.
Jon also believes the service allows visitors to enjoy the diversity of activities and natural landscapes of the region beyond the wine-growing industry. You could, for example, stop off to check out the contemporary art at TarraWarra Estate, or visit Healesville Sanctuary.
“A lot of people know about the wine country, but it really is such a magical place, with so much to do and see,” says Jon. “It doesn’t have to be an alcohol-fuelled day – you could focus on taking in the scenic views of the valley from different points instead.”
But if you’re still keen to make vineyards the focus of your trip, Jon’s top cellar door picks are below.
Punt Road Wines
“Every time our guests hop off here they absolutely love the experience and in winter it’s especially magical. It’s a smaller cellar door so if you're going on a weekday you’re essentially the only one there. They'll open special wines, get to know you and give you a unique experience.”
Payten & Jones
“They are quite young in comparison to the big boys and like to do things a little differently with their often-earthier wines. $10 for 10 tastings is unheard of for a winery – and the two winemakers are at the cellar door actually serving it.”
Helen & Joey Estate
“Located off the Maroondah Highway, far from the beaten track up the hills, this estate overlooks one of the best views of the valley. In winter, when they’ve got the fire pits going, it’s the perfect way to end the day.”