Yarra Valley is a picturesque wine region in Victoria only one hour from Melbourne. It’s a popular spot for both locals and tourists alike. As fellow Melbournians, we’ve visited Yarra Valley several times with our two little dogs. We always found it rather challenging to navigate our way with dogs. But then, Helen from Pooches and Pinot Wine Tours contacted us after reading our blog post about South Australia’s dog-friendly wine regions for a personalised wine tour in Yarra Valley. Her friendliness and attention to detail when customising our experience convinced us to give one of their wine tours a go. Through the Pooches and Pinot Degustation Wine Tour experience, we experienced how dog-friendly the Yarra Valley truly is, and we fell in love with this beautiful winery region all over again.
Disclaimer: Pooches and Pinot Degustation Wine Tour was a paid collaboration. However, the opinions expressed in this blog post are our own. Check out Pooches and Pinot website to see the latest offers.
Overview Of Pooches and Pinot Dog-Friendly Degustation Tour
Pooches and Pinot is a small Wine Tour company founded by Jeff and Helen, the two amazing humans behind the operation. They do everything, including preparing a personalised itinerary, picking up guests, and driving guests and their furbabies to the best dog-friendly wineries in the Yarra Valley. They offer tailored Half Day, Full Day and Degustation Tours with the option of pick up and drop off within the 75km perimeter of the Yarra Valley at an additional cost (pick up and drop off from Yarra Valley is free). They are the only dog-friendly wine tour company currently operating in the Yarra Valley, and they are well-loved by the community, which shows when you tour with them.
The Degustation Tour
We did the Degustation Tour, which included touring five wineries and tasting wine perfectly paired with a different food item at every stop. All the wineries we visited were perfectly dog-friendly; we were welcome inside the cellar door or had covered areas for when the weather was not ideal. The Pooches and Pinot Mercedes van (there are two; we travelled in the smaller one) is spacious enough to take your dog either with you in front or at the back. Pooches and Pinot provides the dog bed and seat belt bandanas, tennis balls, and snacks for the pups (and humans). We chose to take our own car seat and belt for the doggos, but you can communicate all this with Helen before the tour.
Personalised To Your Needs
Our tour guide, Jeff(also the co-owner of Pooches and Pinot), was extremely friendly, outgoing, passionate, and knowledgeable. My partner, a wine novice, really enjoyed learning more about wine and how to taste to really appreciate the complexities. Fun fact: Jeff is also a singer-songwriter, so if you are a lover of 70s and 80s music, do request to play one of his CDs; we thoroughly enjoyed talking about all things music while in the car.
Rob Dolan Wines – Breakfast Pastries Paired With Wine
Our first stop was Rob Dolan Wines, which set the scene perfectly for what was to come. This winery is so picturesque and makes a perfect wedding venue (any dog parents who want to get married in a winery!?). The wonderful staff here not only made us feel welcomed but also treated our pups with equal warmth and hospitality. We were offered a platter of unique breakfast pastries paired with four of their wines, an exclusive item for just for Pooches and Pinot tours. The platter included a buttery croissant with sparkling wine, their acclaimed chardonnay with delicious escargot, Pinot Gris with a Raspberry Danish, and Pinot Noir with a beautiful cherry Danish.
But most importantly, this winery had everything that ticked our boxes for being dog-friendly and not merely dog-tolerant (like many places claiming to be dog-friendly nowadays). Here are some of the highlights:
- Covered and uncovered spacious outdoor areas
- Friendly staff who adore having dogs
- Clean bowls with fresh water
- A dog menu – this dog menu is named after the winery’s resident dogs, Merlo and Larry, and offers a fine selection of dog-friendly food items, including a cheese platter (refer to the photos for the detailed menu). The dog-friendly ‘Cheese’ Platter is included as a part of the degustation tour package.
Mandala Wines – Wine With In-House Charcuterie
At our second stop, Mandala Wines, we were greeted by the owner, Charles, who conducts most of the wine tastings personally. We were offered to do the wine tasting inside (yes, you can take your well-behaved dog inside for tasting) or outside. Here, we had a charcuterie board consisting of a delicious offering of cured meats, pickled veggies/olives and breadsticks, all made in-house with ingredients grown at the winery itself or farms nearby. These were perfectly paired with some of the best wines we’ve had this year. We discovered that we are huge fans of cool-climate red wines. We loved the wine here so much that we bought several bottles to take home. There’s also a beautiful restaurant with outdoor seating for those who want to have lunch here. Mandala wines is the ideal spot for those who are seeking a deeper dive into the world of winemaking.
Steels Gate – Wine Paired With Lunch
We stopped at Steels Gate for our lunch, where the lovely owner, Brad, welcomed us. We were seated on the wrap-around balcony overlooking the vineyard (Fully covered with café blinds, making it a perfect dog-friendly to dine in all weather conditions). Ollie and Winks were greeted with loads of pats and a fresh water bowl. Here, we did the wine tasting followed by their 3-course lunch with our choice of a glass of wine. Lunch was as fresh as it could be with all the produce from the winery itself, every ingredient shining through with beautiful colours and taste. The wine was exquisite, and for someone with a scientific background, I was quite interested to hear Brad’s enthusiasm for the scientific methodology behind wine-making and attention to detail in everything they do at Steels Gate.
Payten & Jones – Wine Paired With Cheese
Payten & Jones is an eclectic little cellar door opposite the world-famous Four-Pillars gin distillery, offering wines with a modern twist. If you love a funky venue with graffiti, wine and plenty of good vibes to hang out with your furkids, this is your place. We were offered a great selection of in-house wines, a taste of some Spanish Vermouth they are the exclusive importers for – Fot-Li Vermut, and a delicious local cheese platter (another Pooches and Pinot exclusive) that Ollie couldn’t keep his paws away from.
Boat O’Craigo – Wine Paired With Gourmet Chocolate
Our final stop was Boat O’Craigo, where we had the unique experience of tasting five of their renowned wine paired with five chocolates from the Cuvée Chocolates range and a delicious brownie. We were pleasantly surprised at how much we loved not only their wine, but the delicious chocolate (the salted caramel is exceptional). Who knew chocolate paired so well with wine? Ollie and Winks had a fantastic time here; they were even allowed to run around on the lawn to stretch their paws. The staff absolutely loved dogs and even wanted to take a photo with Ollie (Aren’t they the cutest!). The Pawfect ending to our day.
Caution: chocolates and grapes are highly toxic to dogs; take caution and supervise your dog at all times.
In conclusion, the Pooches and Pinot private Degustation Tour is absolutely worth the money. It is personalised to your needs. Every winery offers a unique experience of wine and food pairing, which is all included in the price. The best part is you get to hang out with Jeff or Helen, both owners of the business who go that extra mile – fun, local, knowledgeable tour guides who will drive you and the pups around and cater to your needs while you have all the fun with none of the responsibility of driving.
I think by now you must have realised how much we loved this experience, so it comes as no surprise that we highly recommend this to any dog parent who wants to sit back, relax and enjoy a day out in the Yarra Valley sipping delicious wine and let someone else take over the wheels, literally and figuratively.