Back when The Crafty Pint launched in the second half of 2010, the Yarra Valley region was already becoming something of a hotspot for microbreweries. Hargreaves Hill was established in Yarra Glen, Coldstream was operating as a brewpub just down the road, Buckley’s was brewing beers on one of the country’s more homespun setups, and Little Creatures’ little sibling White Rabbit was doing the same on one of the country’s more high tech setups.
Yet, rather than grow, the ensuing years saw Coldstream decommission its onsite brewery to contract its beers elsewhere and White Rabbit move lock, stock and barrel room to Geelong. However, Hargreaves and Buckley’s aren’t the only breweries operating in the Valley as, late in 2014, the family behind Napoleone Cider and Punt Road Wines decided to add beer to their CV.
Napoleone Brewers shares the site in the heart of the Valley where the Napoleone family started growing apples in 1948 before adding vines in the early 80s. And what a site it is. The driveway takes you past rows of vines towards the brewery, restaurant and adjacent accommodation and, wherever you turn, you’re met with views stretching across Victoria’s most popular tourism destination to the surrounding hills.
It’s not just the natural surrounds that catch the eye either. Taking as their starting point an 1860s dairy, the family built the brewery and ciderhouse on one side of it and a restaurant on the other, with the bar sitting smack bang in the middle of where the cows would once have been milked. And, while the additions are new, they’ve been designed and landscaped in such a way that you’d swear the building had been around for decades. Expanses of timber and concrete, reclaimed farmhouse gear and repurposed furniture maintain the rustic rural feel, although you’d be excused from not noticing given the towering walls of glass that ensure you can enjoy Valley views while seated inside too.
Heading up brewing at launch was Ben Waymouth, who joined Napoleone from gluten free specialists, O’Brien’s of Ballarat, to take up his first head brewer role. Very much a traditionalist, his fondness for older European styles rather than US-inspired hop bombs was brought to bear on Moo Brew’s old equipment, while he began playing around with the winery’s barrels too, including making a 100 percent Brettanomyces fermented pinot noir as a means of showing the Punt Road winemakers that Brett needn’t be that scary.
Since he moved on, former brewers from neighbouring Hargreaves Hill had taken up the reins and, while some beers – a German style lager, a pale ale (the sole demand from the bosses at launch) an English ESB and the Breakneck Porter among them – remain, the range has been undergoing an evolution. The beers can be sampled as part of a tasting paddle or taken home bottled or, in the case of specialties, via growler.
The restaurant, Meletos, bakes its breads onsite and offers authentic wood-fired pizza and other traditional Italian dishes as well as a limited wine list (you’ll find more at the Punt Road cellar door down the next driveway). Also on site is The Stables accommodation just a stone’s throw from the brewery.
Taken together, it makes for quite the package: beer, wine, cider and pizza all created on site, often from ingredients grown there too, and somewhere to rest your head at night if you plan to indulge. What more could you ask for?