Taras Ochota of Ochota Barrels - punk-rocking surfer dude turns poster child for Australian wine
In his life, Taras Ochota was many things: surfer dude, bassist in a punk rock band, and most famously wine maker.
2013 Young Gun of Wine, and head vigneron of Ochota Barrels, Taras Ochota’s journey with winemaking begun early, with his Ukrainian grandparents who were pioneers of the lo-fi wine movement in Adelaide. In his youth, he travelled, played bass in a punk rock band, and worked odd jobs in hospitality. At university he returned to vines, pruning and tending to those in South Australia. This led him to the formalise his work at the University of Adelaide with a degree in oenology.
Taking his qualifications to new heights and exploring new perspectives, he made the leap over to California to work (and surf) in myriad wineries such as Kunin and Outpost. What followed was a resident gig at Two Hands in the Barossa Valley, before jetting off to Sweden to work for famed Swedish wine importer Oenoforos as their European Flying Winemaker Consultant. A title fitting for a man of his great worldly talent.
Ochota Barrels, as a concept, was born in the 2000s on the coast of West Mexico out the back of a VW campervan. With his wife Amber (a fellow, talented winemaker of her own right), Taras dreamt of making wine that was pure and real, yet undoubtably edgy. Taras described his vision for Ochota Barrels through the lens that he knew best, music, stating:
Music and wine are so connected in so many ways, I reckon you can often see the styles of music that people like in the wines they make. I like edgy music, rawer, sharper, and my wines tend to be all elbows and knees sticking out.
Knowing this, one can fully appreciate that Taras never aimed to make a wine that pleased the market.
The Ochota Barrels vineyard is located on 9.6 steep acres in a cool high-altitude climate in Lenswood, a town in the Basket Range out of Adelaide Hills. Their processes are biodynamic, inspired mostly by those of Southern France. Taras described his approach to wine making as “holistic… working with mother nature.”
At Ochota Barrels they pick early to capture the natural acidity, energy and excitability of the grape. They play with texture by fine-tuning time on skins and with processes such as battonage. Whites are whole bunch pressed, and reds whole-bunch fermented with longer macerations than usually expected. Aging in French oaks, using wild, indigenous yeasts and spontaneous fermentation, the Ochota wines have a delicious depth and playful charm. It is safe to say that Taras’ wines surf the wave between grungy and earthy, and elegant and pure like no other. I mean, one would expect no less from a surfer dude.
The packaging has its purpose too. The logo represents the labyrinth of texture and flavour imbued within each drop, and most wines are labelled using esoteric music references, such as the “Fugazzi” Grenache, or “Texture Like Sun” red blend.
And the critics? They love Taras and his wine. “Rockstar” gets thrown around a lot, as does “most important winemakers of our generation.” Taras was once even visited by Mick Jaggar, who reportedly arrived intending one drink, stayed for dinner, and left with several cases of Ochota Barrels wine. Wines truly fit for rockstar royalty.
Sadly, Taras Ochota passed away in October 2020. A one of a kind wine-maker, he will be sorely missed and his contribution to the Australian wine landscape will never be forgotten.
Article by: Ceren Guler