Taras Ochota was the reluctant hero of Australian wine. He emerged from the conventional lane of Australian winemaking, working for other people’s successful ventures, then changed direction when he and wife Amber started their Ochota Barrels label in 2008. It was a wild and wonderful ride from there.
His ethereal wines were a breath of fresh air at a time when Australian wines were struggling to pull it together, languishing in relevance and popularity. In this era, Ochota emerged as a saviour of sorts and broke the spell, changing the perception that wine made here was monotonous, big and boring. In doing so, he changed the whole game.
Ochota’s wines were made in an intensely personal style and really reflected the gentle, playful and pleasure-seeking persona of the man himself.
He lived to be happy and to bring others along for the ride. His wines attracted an army of enchanted followers who could scarcely believe Australian wine could be this drinkable and totally delicious.
Tool frontman Maynard James Keenan went for a tasting and left as a collaborator, making small amounts of grenache with Ochota under the banner ‘A Sense of Compression’. Sir Mick Jagger famously once swung past for a tasting on his way to lunch when touring with The Rolling Stones in 2014. He left sometime after midnight the following morning. Such was the Ochota spell.
Taras and Amber made their exquisitely beautiful home in in the town of Basket Range in the Adelaide Hills. From this secluded hamlet, they built a network of friends and followers that eventually extended right around the globe. Their shared love of the good life, of sound farming and of nurturing the land informed the way their wines were made and enjoyed.
Music was the other mandatory ingredient in the Ochota formula for good times. Life in the winery played out against a sound track of mostly punk and post-hardcore music from near and afar. He named his first and most important wine after US band Fugazi and each new wine from there would bear a musical tribute in its name.
For a man who emanated such charismatic, laid-back charm Ochota was actually intensely organised and a keen planner. He demanded a high standard from people he worked with and he gave everything in return. He was an ardent observer, most
notably of nature and people, and it was his ability to weave these two together with wine that formed the genius of his craft.
Ochota saw opportunity in the vineyards of the Adelaide Hills and in the Blewitt Springs section of McLaren Vale. He drew inspiration from winemakers and wines from far away – like Eric Pfefferling of Domaine L’Anglore. I was lucky enough to drink many wines with Taras, but will always remember the sheer adoration he had for the light, ethereal and wispy tones of L’Anglore wines.
He understood these light, fresh and delicious wines, and so went about sourcing grapes from growers in the Adelaide Hills and McLaren Vale that would allow him to make his own version of them. He found growers with good sites and went about bending them towards better farming practices and introduced them to an emerging group of like-minded winemakers who would buy grapes grown along organic principles.
Ochota’s generosity was well known, and it extended to his winemaking peers and friends. He created a movement in the Adelaide Hills that crested at a time when the new wine world was thirsting for natural and non-intervention wine. His brand of mentoring was not one that taught technique or winemaking tricks; instead he taught the big picture of self belief and of finding your own patch. He led by example and taught methodology rather than sheer method. He bred self-belief in those closest to him, an extraordinary gift.
I remember I was in Paris in 2016, heading home from a six-week tasting trip to the Rhône and Burgundy, and met a friend in the tiny wine bar, La Buvette. I was introduced to the owner, Camille Foumont and we struck up a conversation. Expecting to taste and talk about French wines, instead we spent the night drinking and talking about Taras Ochota and the Adelaide Hills.
Taras fought a brave and gracious battle with two degenerative illnesses in recent years and eventually succumbed early on 13 October. He is survived by Amber, son Sage and daughter Anouk, and leaves a legacy that will continue to inspire the lives of so many friends and fans for many years to come.
Vale Taras Ochota.