A Short History of the House
In 1837 brothers William, Donald and James Ryrie, accompanied by four convict stockmen, set out from Monaro in NSW driving 250 head of stock eventually arriving in the Yarra Valley where they settled at the current location of Yering, the aboriginal name for the area.
Significantly for the future of the Yarra Valley, accompanying the Ryries were vine cuttings which were planted at Yering and resulted in Victoria’s first vintage in 1845. By 1850 over an acre of vines was in full production and when Paul de Castella called to discuss the purchase of Yering Station, Donald Ryrie was able to welcome him with his own wine labelled with ironic overstatement as “Chateau Yering”.
After purchasing the property de Castella contracted the services of Samuel de Pury, one of a large group of immigrants originating from around Neuchatel in Switzerland, to assist in a significant expansion in the vineyard.
He was later joined in developing the area by Samuel de Pury’s brother Guillame who founded Yeringberg and Paul de Castella’s brother Hubert who founded St Huberts in the early 1860’s, both properties having previously been part of Yering Station.
All three vineyards were very successful with Yering winning the Argus Gold Cup and 100 guineas prize as the “Best Victorian Vineyard” in 1861. International awards for all three vineyards followed in later years. The pinnacle of Paul de Castella’s success was reached in 1889 at the Paris Exhibition where Yering was awarded a “Grand Pris” – the only one awarded outside the Northern Hemisphere.
In the late 1890’s, after an economic depression, fashion began to change and table wines suffered a significant decline in demand. One by one the vineyards pulled out their vines and the properties were converted to cattle runs, particularly dairying. Paul de Castella sold Chateau Yering in 1896 and concentrated on managing his Melbourne chain of wine cellars until his death in 1903. The rebirth of the Yarra Valley vineyards did not eventuate until the late 1960’s
At the time of Paul de Castella’s purchase of the property there had already been two dwellings constructed on the site, an original bush hut which was later replaced by a more substantial timber building, both of which were constructed by the Ryries.
Both William and James Ryrie returned to NSW leaving Donald Ryrie to manage the cattle runs which originally extended to 17,400 hectares, covering almost the entire Yarra Valley including two outstations north of the Yarra at Tarrawarra and Dalry.
Donald Ryrie continued in occupation until the sale to Paul de Castella in 1850.
Paul de Castella lived in Ryrie’s house until the present mansion was constructed in 1854. Hubert de Castella described how hand-made bricks were accumulated on site and expensive fittings such as the marble fire surrounds and cedar timbers from NSW were brought by bullock cart from Melbourne.
The house became the social centre of the Yarra Valley. Contemporary descriptions involve parties of socialites travelling from Melbourne for weekends which included musical sessions on the piano which had been brought overland for the purpose.
The original house remains intact in plan form although some alterations have occurred over the years to individual rooms. The main entrance of the house was originally at the rear approximately where the entrance to the Bar from the Sweetwater Cafe now exists.
The Library, Chinese Room and Lounge are in their 1854 form with original fittings, Australian Cedar window, jambs and doors, substantially as they were in de Castella’s day.
Eleonore’s Restaurant is partly the original Dining Room which was connected to the main house by a passage way. This was later extended and widened into what is now the Blue Drawing Room.
The cellar pre-dates the house having been constructed in the 1840s and then extended in the 1850s.
The gardens were originally laid out in simple form by Donald Ryrie. They were later extended by Paul de Castella with the assistance of his good friend Baron von Mueller (a world-renowned Botanist) who, among his many other achievements, founded the Royal Botanic Gardens in Melbourne.
Baron von Mueller was responsible for planting the Chilean Wine Palm (Jubaea Chilensis) immediately behind the house in 1867. This magnificent tree is now classified by the National Trust. The two Bunya Pines (from Queensland) in the front garden were also planted about this time and are recorded on the Register of Significant Trees of Victoria. Both the house and garden are listed for protection by Heritage Victoria.
A description of the property was published in the Australian Vigneron in 1899 which gives the flavour of how the property had developed over the previous fifty years:
“We recently had the pleasure of visiting the Chateau Yering Estate, at Yarra Glen. This vineyard which is one of the oldest in the colony, originally belonged to Mr Paul de Castella, who has been connected with the wine industry in Victoria for so many years. The view obtained from the Chateau would be difficult to surpass in any country: the surrounding hills are covered with native forest trees, and the course of the (Yarra) river is easily followed by observing the rows of wattle growing on the banks. The Chateau is a substantial building, surrounded by a 15 foot verandah. On entering one is struck by the loftiness of the rooms, and the handsome fittings and decorations which equal those to be found in an old English home. The Chateau is approached by an avenue of elm trees over half a mile long. Mr de Castella was noted for his hospitality, and most of the Governors and visitors of note in the early days have been royally entertained there.”