Cider maker Behn Payten from Napoleone Cider in Coldstream is taking part in the Yarra Valley Grape Grazing Festival. Photo: Eddie Jim
One of Victoria's most loved food and wine events, the Yarra Valley Grape Grazing Festival, is to return after being shelved because of the devastating 2009 Black Saturday bushfires.
The weekend festival that draws thousands of tourists will return from February 14 to 16, with more than 50 wineries, cider makers, beer brewers, cheesemakers and other food producers taking part.
Jimmy Barnes will be there, too, performing a concert at Rochford Winery.
The 21-year-old festival attracted more than 20,000 people in 2008 but it was abandoned when the fires hit in 2009. "It was due to run a week after the fires, but of course that wasn't possible," said Richard Howden, the chief executive officer of the Yarra Valley Wine Growers Association.
"The wine industry wasn't affected badly. There were hardly any fires in the valley's vineyards but it was the townships and communities around us, such as Kinglake, that really suffered and there have been ongoing issues for years," he said.
"We did not think it was appropriate to hold a celebratory festival until now."
Mr Howden said the revived event had been broadened beyond wineries to include cafes, restaurants and local foodies. "It is the celebration of great food and wine in a beautiful environment," he said. "We are really showcasing the best of the region."
Some of the highlights include the Barnes concert, the closure to traffic of the main street of Healesville for a big breakfast, Valentine's Day dinners, food and wine master classes, a twilight movie screening among the vines at Rochford, picnic hampers at DeBortoli Winery, and music under the trees at wineries.
"We also have a lot of young artisan winemakers in the region now and about 15 of them have banded together at the Healesville Memorial Hall to offer a wine expo of their brands, which are only just getting out into the market," Mr Howden said.
Cider maker Behn Payten from Napoleone Cider in Coldstream is taking part. "We'll have cider, crepes and music all weekend," he said.
"It is the first time cider makers have been involved in a big way. Cider has had a resurgence in the past few years and the new format of the festival will allow for us to be showcased along with the wineries and others.
"The valley has a great variety of local produce. There are cheesemakers and beer brewers of quality here and a lot of people are producing organic and sustainable food," he said.
"The valley has come ahead in so many ways since the fires. I truly believe it has come out stronger. There is more of a sense of community."
The Yarra Valley region receives about 4.5 million visitors a year, most coming from Melbourne for the day but also some international tourists.
It is estimated the festival can inject $4 million-$5 million into the local economy if it draws 20,000 people. "I'm not sure if we will get that many people in our first year back but if we do I'll be rapt," Mr Howden said.
Organisers launched a festival site this week, see grapegrazing.com.au.
Top regional foodie festivals
❏Yarra Valley Grape Grazing, February 14-16
❏Apollo Bay Seafood Festival, February 22
❏The Age Harvest Picnic at Hanging Rock, February 23
❏Mornington Peninsula Pinot Festival, March 9
❏High Country Harvest, May 16-25
❏Rutherglen Winery Walkabout, June 7-8