Taras Ochota, one of Australia’s most talented and respected winemakers, has passed away at the age of 49.
He had been battling an illness for several years.
A very humble man with a gentle soul and caring nature, Taras was a much-loved member of the Australian and international wine community and will be sorely missed.
Based in Basket Range in the Adelaide Hills, Taras was one of the first winemakers to pursue low-intervention winemaking.
His wines, invariably bright, fresh and utterly delicious, attracted a cult following throughout the world and quickly sold out soon after release.
The news of his passing has shocked and saddened the local and global wine industry, where Taras was held in the highest regard.
His good friend Maynard James Keenan of US rock band Tool led the tributes: “We lost a good one today. Godspeed, Taras. This truly sucks.”
Taras won the 2013 Young Gun of Wine Award. Founder Rory Kent said on Instagram today, “So loved by everyone he met.
“Such a beautiful soul. A rock star without pretence.”
Taras once played in the punk band Krantus. His wines, including Fugazi Grenache, The Price of Silence Gamay and The Impeccable Disorder Pinot Noir, are named after favourite punk songs and bands.
Taras and Keenan made wine together at Ochota Barrels at Basket Range.
Rock stars sought out Taras and his wines. When The Rolling Stones frontman Mick Jagger and drummer Charlie Watts visited Adelaide for a concert in 2014, they caught up with Taras and his family for lunch.
WBM – Australia’s Wine Business Magazine named Taras in our list of the 50 Stars of the Year in 2016.
Taras was regularly referred to as a “rock star winemaker” in the press.
In 2015 Tony Love wrote in The Advertiser, “Taras cares little for such washed-off celebrity, but he now has to handle a cult winemaker status while still leading a relaxed mix of Hills, surf and music lives.
“Then there are his wines labelled Ochota Barrels, which have by geographic and philosophical association been tagged into that bunch of other Basket Range producers who have led the ‘natural’ wines movement.
“His, arguably, have stood apart as most successfully bridging the mainstream and alternative seams of the wine trade, their artisan character tapping into the zeitgeist for such things while their quality has stayed laudable and trusted.
“The wines tap into tiny vineyards and are made in very small amounts, often selling out fast but are regularly on many restaurant lists. They suit the current trend to fresher, brighter reds that aren’t overridden by oak, and reveal clear berry and fruit characters.”
WBM reviewer Mike Bennie once wrote about Taras, “Ochota Barrels wines are of high quality and brash personality but perhaps the greatest measure of Ochota’s success is how he has broached the conversation about natural wine and given a new currency to Australia’s wine image.”
And this from Andrew Caillard MW when Taras was a finalist in the Gourmet Traveller Wine Winemaker of the Year Award, “Taras Ochota, through his creativity, resourcefulness and imagination, has loaded his barrels and fired a massive shot across the bows of the Australian wine industry.”
In December last year Nick Ryan wrote in The Australian, “Their Ochota Barrels label is now one of the most celebrated in the country, a leading light in the new Australian wine vanguard.”
According to the Ochota Barrels website, “The Ochota Barrels tale began on a surf trip, late 2000 along the Mexican west coast in a Volkswagen campervan. A final destination after traveling some of the world’s most amazing wine and surf regions, Taras and Amber Ochota conceived the idea to make beautiful holistic wines back home in South Australia.”
Taras said in a profile on the Wine Australia website in 2016, “I’ve worked around the world, worked for different people and been shown different things and I’ve picked the eyes out of those techniques. I suppose I like wines that are a bit more elegant and under-extracted and pretty so I’ve really focused on that.
“My idea is to embrace that natural acidity, which is basically from picking early. With that you get lower alcohol than your typical Australian wines. Wines that have energy. Taking a holistic approach to making wines that have an energy, that have a vibrancy. Wines that ‘pop’ when you put them in your mouth!”
In 2016 Taras and business partner Charlie Lawrence opened Lost in a Forest in Uraidla in the Hills, specialising in wood-fired pizzas.
Outside of wine, Taras loved music and surfing.
He was generous with his time and the consummate host. We interviewed him at the winery once. When the official duties were over, Taras fetched a few butcher glasses and a big bottle of his beloved Melbourne Bitter to share.
WBM offers our sincere condolences to his wife Amber and their two children Sage and Anouk.
We encourage all who knew Taras Ochota to leave a tribute here.
Photo credit: Miles Wilson.