Working out of the Basket Range, Taras Ochota is one of the pioneers of Australia’s natural wine movement. Dissatisfied with the status quo, he took familiar expectations and smashed them in exciting ways. Leading with Grenache, Ochota dialled back the ripeness to give it a transparency, fragrant detail and savoury edge that was revelatory at the time. Similarly – collaborating with his wife, Amber – Adelaide Hills pinot noir was taken in a fragrant direction, uncluttered by winemaking artefact. Named the 2013 Young Gun of Wine, today Ochota sources across a mosaic of tiny organic and biodynamic plots from the Hills down to McLaren Vale to fashion a busy roster of cuvees, from the subtly reframed to the distinctly revolutionary.
The son of Ukrainian immigrants, Taras Ochota had a schooling in both natural viticulture and winemaking from a young age. His parents planted and farmed vineyards in the Clare Valley the way they knew how, which was manually, and without employing pesticides or herbicides. And they made wine simply, as their ancestors would have. That wine was not aspirational in intent, but rather something that you made because you grew grapes, just like you might make passata or pickles. Nonetheless, this early education was the underpinning for both Ochota’s eventual career, as well as for its deeply philosophical nature.
Diverted by surfing, a successful, if fledgling, musical career in a punk band and a hospitality degree, Ochota gradually drifted back to wine. Piecing together vintage work around the world that conveniently brushed against surfing trips and gigs, the desire crystallised in him to make a career of it. Winemaking, that is. Returning home, he completed his Oenology Degree at the University of Adelaide, before making wine at Two Hands, in the Barossa, as well as for an importer in Sweden, where he both ‘finished’ imported wine, as well as worked with producers around the world to make bespoke products.
Finally settling in the Adelaide Hills for good, working at Nepenthe under Peter Leske kept Ochota out of trouble, but the lure of making his own expressions was far too great. Time spent making wine on a larger scale, and to please a market, left Ochota with a clear perspective on wanting to do the opposite, by making fresher styles that didn’t supply to recipes or established norms. This was about the time that Tom Shobbrook and Anton Von Klopper were making some of the first ‘natural’ noise on the local wine scene, back when the Basket Range had none of the avant-garde connotation it does today.
Grenache was Ochota’s muse, with super-bright styles, as well as ultra-long-macerated bottlings filling the roster. The overarching theme was organically grown fruit, picked early to capture acidity and fresh flavours and made without additions, bar sulphur. Today, that range stretches across a raft of varieties and sites, with esoteric musically derived cuvee names, and the wines remain light on their feet, yet ripple with detail and structural complexity.
On Tuesday October 13th, Taras Ochota parted with this world after a long illness, leaving behind Amber, his beloved partner in wine and life, and his adored children, Sage and Anouk. Vale Taras Ochota.