Taras Ochota doing it naturally

Taras Ochota (Photo: via Young Gun Of Wine website)

Taras Ochota is proof that it’s possible to be an alternative, iconoclastic and ‘natural’ winemaker and still produce wines that tick all the boxes of quality.

His micro-boutique wine company is Ochota Barrels (tastings), which is a play on words. He was a globetrotting surfer and punk band bass player before he discovered wine, and barrels (of very different kinds) are dear to both the surfer and winemaker. The surfer delights in being inside one, while the winemaker is more likely to put his wine inside one.

Ochota works in a part of the Adelaide Hills known as the Basket Range – sometimes jokingly referred to as the home of basket-weaving hippies. It’s a focal point of ‘natural’ winemakers. Others of that ilk include Anton von Klopper of Lucy Margaux (tastings), James Erskine of Jauma (tastings), and Gareth Belton of Gentle Folk (tastings).

Ochota was raised there. He’s of Ukrainian descent and his father is a wine lover who favours big, ‘fat boy’ reds – old-fashioned Aussie blockbusters – which are almost opposite to the style of wine Taras makes. His reds are more likely to be light or medium-bodied, whole-bunch fermented and easy to drink straight after vintage without the need for cellaring. More Beaujolais than Barossa.

“I’m just looking to make delicious wines that I and my customers want to drink,” he says.

With his wild hair and beard, he may not look like the scientific type, but Taras is an Adelaide University oenology graduate and is dismissive of those who aren’t educated in wine science. He worked on and off with Peter Leske, a former extension officer for the Australian Wine Research Institute who now has his own winery in the Adelaide Hills. They first worked together at Nepenthe (tastings) and then again at the same winery after Leske had bought it from Nepenthe’s owner, Australian Vintage.

“I joke with Peter that he taught me everything I know, and I still know nothing.”

Now Taras makes his wines in a shed on his own property.

His wines are all made from grapes that were grown either organically or biodynamically. It’s a philosophy that extends from his vegetable garden and orchard.

“My home garden is organic and my children spend a lot of time in it. I like to see my son helping himself to fruit fresh from the garden, which I wouldn’t be happy about if it needed to have sprays washed off it.”

It’s logical that he thinks the same way about grapes. Indeed, Taras was brought up with wines that were made ‘naturally’ and without additives: both his father and grandfather made wine that way for home consumption.

Taras adds nothing to his wines, except minimal sulphur dioxide – at a rate of 30 parts per million.

“That’s so that I won’t have to worry about aldehydes, mousiness or brettanomyces.”

Others in Basket Range won’t even add sulphur to their wine, but Ochota, who exports half his production, says he would never export a wine that had no added SO2.

“Sulphur dioxide is not an enemy,” he says.

All components of the Ochota Barrels method work towards the same goal. Early harvesting is fundamental, and this leads to high natural acidity and low pH, which in turn gives more protective effect from the minimal SO2, as well as lower alcohol and lighter body – which he prefers.

“They’re food friendly, early drinking wines that can be sold and drunk young, and that has many benefits, not least for cash-flow, and allows me to pay my growers immediately – which makes me popular with them!”

Ochota has done many vintages in California and worked as a ‘flying winemaker’ throughout Europe, and his wife Amber has worked in wineries and vineyards in Italy, Australia and Sweden.

The Ochota Barrels wines have names that would make a good trivial pursuit game for punk music fans. Taras has played bass in various bands, and his wines are named after favourite punk songs. A delicious McLaren Vale grenache named A Sense of Compression was inspired by a meeting with American vigneron and Tool musician Maynard Keenan. The ‘Field Red’ is named after the band Texture Like Sun. There’s a syrah named I Am The Owl after a Dead Kennedys song. A gamay is The Price of Silence. A pinot noir is Impeccable Disorder. The Fugazi Grenache is named after a punk band.

The simple label depicts a single bold design: a labyrinth – which also just happens to look a bit like a barrel. Taras explains that he wants his wines to have the complexity of ‘a labyrinth of flavour, texture and emotion’.

There are two wine releases a year, in spring and summer. Early bottled; early released. Slurpable wines that drink well early. You’ll find them in the back-lane wine bars of Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide and in the more ‘alternative’ retailers such as Sydney’s Annandale Cellars and Best Cellars.

To get more of a feel for the style of Taras and Amber Ochota go to their website www.ochotabarrels.com

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