What Would They Know? Louise Ward of Chesters of the Yarra Valley

by | Venue Wisdom, What Would They Know?, Wisdom

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 Louise Ward Chesters

 The Yarra Valley, just a short drive from the city of Melbourne, Victoria, is known for its beautiful food, wine and incredible country vistas. A real getaway for Melbournians who flock there every weekend to experience its delights. So imagine making this area your home! Louise and her family have done just that, and revel in offering this beautiful part of the world to bridal couples and their guests. Chesters of the Yarra Valley offers a little slice of the country with great food and wine, for you and your guests to enjoy.

Can you describe your venue to us?

Wedding guests fall in love with our property here in the Yarra Valley, And the first thing they notice is our floor to ceiling picture windows.  They comment that they are even more stunning than they imagined. We are on 120 acres of beautiful landscaped rolling lawns with flowering garden beds surrounded by gorgeous mature trees, Ted Secombe sculptures, colourful wild birds and there are paths and walks that lead off into unspoiled bushland.

My husband John and I designed and built the function centre 20 years ago with a wooden exterior so that it would blend sympathetically with its natural surroundings. We’re only an hour’s drive from Melbourne and yet the city and hustle and bustle seem a million miles away once you arrive.  Our guests love the laughter of kookaburras and melodies of the butcher birds and at night they can hear the frogs croaking from the reeds near the dam.

We love seeing the reaction we get from our guests as to how stunning the Yarra Valley and our property is, as it reminds us how fortunate we are to live in such a gorgeous part of the world.

Chesters table decs

What extra attractions do you have on your property?

What truly sets us apart from other venues is that we have Babbajin Wildlife Sanctuary on our property – who take in and nurture injured wildlife. The Sanctuary isn’t open to the public, so our guests love the fact that they get an exclusive opportunity to come and see the animals up close and hear about them.

Our property has so much to offer for those who enjoy fresh air and the outdoors, as we’ve a gorgeous swimming pool, tennis courts, a K2 climbing wall, and paths galore that lead you all over the property – with the option of doing a walk to our next door neighbor – which happens to be a fantastic Yarra Valley winery!

How much guest accommodation do you have on the property? Is there also extra accommodation nearby?

We have 48 rooms that accommodate up to 96 people, in accommodation wings and separate cottages.  And we can arrange further accommodation nearby when required for larger wedding parties.

Chesters outsideRS

What are the other delights of the Yarra Valley that wedding guests might take advantage of?

Gosh, where do we start?  The region is full of stunning gardens, parks, art galleries and exhibitions, wineries with cellar doors, Segway fun and the Chocolaterie is down the road, scenic drives in every direction, stunning views of the Great Dividing Range… I could go on!!

But the Yarra Valley is most famous for producing incredible award winning cool climate wines, in particular Chardonnay and Pinot, and we are literally surrounded by fabulous winemakers and their cellar doors, who we take our guests to, or can invite here on site to talk to our groups.

With good wine goes great food and we have sensational local seasonal produce right here on our doorstep.  Our food is something our guests compliment us on, time and time again.

Chesters dessertRS

What style of food are you known for? How would you describe your cuisine?

Our food is sourced locally, in fact virtually everything is made on site: from the bread, pastries and cakes, to all the condiments, we even grow and use some of our own fruit and vegetables. Our guests comment on the fabulous variety we offer: from tapas, a spit roast, gourmet BBQ, wood fired pizza’s, stand up canapés to sit down three-course dinners.  And there’s always plenty of it as our portions are very generous, plus there’s always a healthy option and for both things our guests thank us.  We recently shot this short video that makes me hungry every time I watch it!  http://www.yarravalleyconference.com.au/functions/the-food/

Your favourite dish on your menu?

This is a hard question for me – it’s hard to have a favorite dish, when I’m partial to everything on our menu!  But I have to confess our cakes and slices are to die for and I’m always offering to sample them!  Also, the smell of freshly baked bread reaches my office as it comes out of the oven, which always smells so appetizing.  Our pizzas, made outside in our wood fired oven are hard to beat – I am a sucker for a lamb souvlaki with tsatziki pizza with a glass of great Yarra Valley pinot!

pizza oven low resRS

Are you flexible, for example, if a couple wishes to do shared platters at their sit down reception, themed food etc – e.g. Mexican etc?

We pride ourselves on our flexibility – we are family owned and run, and therefore aren’t restricted by a parent company or a chain/brand insisting things be done a certain way.  We always hold a meeting with the bridal couple who sit with our Executive Chef to discuss the menu and address each of their requests in detail to ensure we can deliver sensational food for their wedding, punctually, efficiently and to their budget.  Our Chef has years of experience which he draws on to ensure expectations are exceeded, as opposed to just met! J

Can wedding parties make a weekend of it?

Absolutely – we love it when the wedding party make a weekend of it and actively encourage it.  Often guests have traveled from abroad or interstate, so they appreciate unpacking and settling in to the beautiful surrounds for a couple of nights; it makes the whole weekend much more enjoyable for everyone.  Our property lends itself to relaxation and it is a great place from which to explore the Yarra Valley.  And couples take the property exclusively for their wedding, so making time for meals with their loved ones throughout the weekend are a very important and special time for everyone, to relax together.

Do you have an on-site wedding planner?

We work as a really close-knit team, and our main wedding planner is Kerryn. She really enjoys taking time to get to know the couple.  The amount of compliments we get for our customer service and Kerryn’s support before and during the wedding is really touching J Kerryn has been with us for 10 years, which speaks volumes in hospitality.  She is so happy in her role and it shows, and she is a huge support to me as well as the wedding couple!

We have 20+ years of experience here and as you can imagine it is the part of my job I enjoy the most – getting to know the bride and groom and bringing their vision to life and ensuring their special day truly is memorable (and for all the RIGHT reasons).  When you are so involved in creating a special event for people, you become close to the couples and many become friends and return on their wedding anniversaries; we seem to have that effect on people which is lovely. 

Do you have preferred vendors you could recommend to brides and grooms?

Absolutely.  We have always encouraged couples to bring in their own specialist vendors, and through that, we’ve then had the opportunity to sample new specialists, some of whom have made it onto our list of preferred vendors.  We give each couple our list and leave the all important final decision with them.

 Jacqui brideRS

Which vendors can a couple bring in (e.g. cake, flowers etc – or is everything done in-house?)

Whilst we can manage it all for them, there are certain aspects of a wedding that we encourage the bride and groom to manage themselves and most really appreciate that freedom.  We do encourage couples to bring in their own stylist / decorations, so that the set up reflects their own unique style.  We love that every couple is so different and each transforms Chesters into their own special venue.  Not all venues can be that flexible but we feel that it is really important to couples to have that flexibility.

Please describe a favourite place in the gardens for the ceremony? 

Ooh this is a hard question as we have so many super spots where brides like to be.  We have endless little paths, bridges, lawned areas, secluded little hideaways but my favourite spot would be the pillars.  Recently Ted Secombe (Master Potter) organized two magnificent sculptures by an artist called Rudi in our gardens.  The two pillars have cut out gum leaves and amazing stainless steel spheres on the top that turn in the breeze.

Our last couple loved them and felt they really symbolized their relationship; two beings standing strong and independent yet ever connected, moving and adapting with life.  Ted created a beautiful little garden with white pebbles around them with weddings in mind and it is a beautiful spot for a ceremony.  But we really encourage all couples to take their time to wander and get to know the grounds and choose their own little spot.  Again, not many venues are so flexible, but we feel this is crucial – it’s their wedding after all, we want them to feel they’ve created their day, their way.

 Ted sculpturesRS

Favourite place to visit on your days off?

Days off – what are they?!  J  We are surrounded by wineries and art galleries and beautiful gardens – so we really are spoiled for choice.  Alowyn Gardens is literally 5 minutes down the road and is an incredibly energizing place – every time we visit, the owners have redesigned and planted out a new area so it is alive and constantly evolving.  And TarraWarra Museum of Art is a 20 minute drive from us and houses a phenomenal collection of Australian modern art and just happens to have a sensational restaurant too!  So John and I love to treat ourselves to a viewing of the latest exhibition and then sit and relax and drink in the view from the restaurant, out across the slopes of vines.  It’s perfect and totally sums up the beauty of our special region, the Yarra Valley.

Thank you Louise for sharing your thoughts today. What a lovely place this is! To find out more about Chesters of the Yarra Valley visit the website.

All images courtesy of Chesters of the Yarra Valley

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