Remembering Taras

This week the wine world lost one of its shining lights. Taras Ochota, of Adelaide Hills’ Ochota Barrels, passed through after a lengthy illness, leaving his wife and long-time partner Amber, and their two young children. Tributes immediately began across the globe, with personal stories about how Taras’ soft-spoken, insightful, and characterful wines and personality reached and touched so many.

I met Taras on my first trip to Australia, back in October 2014. It was the final night of a 3.5 week trip, and the merry posse of international somms I was riding with, along with our fearless leader Mark Davidson, met with Taras and Brendon Keys, of BK Wines, in Adelaide for a Cantonese feast. Taras and BK brought a number of wines with to the restaurant: new releases, older vintages, special projects. My notes from the night are fuzzy (like the photo below), but my memories are crystalline. The wines were all adventuresome and fresh and daring, embodying everything I had come to understand about New Wave Australia. Taras’ wines had play and fun, interwoven with depth, and thoughtfulness. The wines spoke of the vineyards and vines, like lyrics that are perfectly transposed into a melody. After weeks of intensive tastings, and thousands of wines, those wines stood out, and cemented the zeitgeist of the Adelaide Hills, and really, modern Oz. Though Taras may have been widely regarded as a ‘rock star of wine’, he was intrinsically humble, open, and as interested in our group as he was in speaking of the vineyards and inspiration behind his labels.

Taras’ love of cats is well known. I still have this cork.

Goode has been to visit Taras at his property, first in August 2013, when he captured the winery and his wines. He also tasted with Taras in London and Sydney, and most recently at the in the Adelaide Hills in Septemeber 2017. [JG aside: on my first visit, Taras was wearing an Ochota Barrels hoodie, and I remarked how cool it was. He didn’t have any left for sale, but took his off, ran it through a wash cycle, and gave it to me as I left. A dude. I still have it, of course, a prized item.]

Tellingly, we both selected an Ochota Barrels wine as one of our Highlights within the past year, publishing profiles on the Ochota Barrels 186 2018 from McLaren Vale, and the Ochota Barrels Home… Pinot Noir 2018, within weeks of each other (the only time we’ve independently selected the same producer as a Highlight).

Over the years, we’ve continued to seek out the wines, thankfully aided by working with excellent agencies like Indigo Wines, The Living Vine, Sur Lie, Vine Street Imports, Wein Am Limit, and others (always a good sign when numerous highly reputable agencies carry the wine). A few of our recent tasting notes are below, happy, thankful, and wistful memories of this kind and brave innovator, and one whose star will continue to sparkle brightly.

“The flame that burns Twice as bright burns half as long.”

Lao Tzu

WINES (with date of tasting in month/year format, followed by author initials)

Ochota Barrels The Green Room Grenache 2019, McLaren Vale, Australia
From McLaren Vale’s Onkaparinga Hills, this Grenache was based on a vineyard planted in 1946 and on limestone and schist soils. Predominantly whole bunch and entirely native fermented, this fruit spent 88 days on skins before being basket pressed to older French barriques for a couple of months before being bottled unfined and unfiltered with a wee tip of sulphur. Light and lithe, with wild strawberry, perfumed summer raspberry, savoury whiffs of cured meats, and dried summer herbs, all finely, firmly gripped with a riff of skin tannins. Acidity is buoyant, and alcohol a welcome 12.8 degrees (for grenache!). The soils give a pixellated acidity, while the vine age gives it a recognizable gravitas. Drink with a slight chill, and picnic of charcuterie and cheeses. 91/100 (05/20) TR

Ochota Barrels The Mark of Cain Pinot Meunier 2019, Adelaide Hills, Australia
This small batch Pinot Meunier, planted in 1985 in Piccadilly Valley, was named after the punk band Taras Ochota once toured with. I always seek out Taras’ wines, and single variety pinot meunier, so this wine, a relatively new one to his lineup, is a joy indeed. 2019 doesn’t disappoint, long, lithe, and subtle, with wild raspberry, strawberry, rhubarb, and rosehips running the slender form to a lightly spiced, finely mineral salted finish. Tannins are modest, but enough to hug the juicy, softer palate to a red liquorice finish. Best with a slight chill. 91/100 (04/20) TR

Ochota Barrels The Price of Silence Gamay 2019, Adelaide Hills, Australia
This Gamay comes from three clones planted in 1985 in Piccadilly Valley’s clay over limestone, at 550m in Adelaide Hills. #GoGamayGo. A few years after planting, the vines were grafted over to Chardonnay. BOO. However, in 2013, Taras Ochota convinced the grower to chainsaw off the chardy grafts and bring back canes from the Gamay rootstock – and it worked. This is a very small lot wine (mine is 3160 of 3488 bottles produced) which is in high demand. It underwent half carbonic maceration for a lunar cycle, while 50% was whole bunch for 6 days. All was basket pressed to old French barriques where it remained until bottling, unfined and unfiltered. Wild strawberries, sapid raspberries, tart blackcurrant, red florals, red liquorice, and ample mineral salts swirl on the medium-light (12.4 degree) palate, framed by light, whisper fine tannins. The finish is stony and lingering, encouraging another glass (bottle!). Take with a slight chill, as oft as you can. 90/100 (03/20) TR

Ochota Barrels From the North Mourvèdre 2019, Barossa Valley, Australia
Another bizarre beauty from Taras Ochota, this low yield, biodynamically farmed Mataro (Mourvèdre) was planted in 1869 on sandy decomposed granite and quartz soils in Barossa. After a whole bunch press, this was cold soaked for 5 days until the native ferment kicked in, followed by partial carbonic maceration and 12 days on skins and stalks. Post ferment, this was basket pressed to French barriques for 3 months’ rest, prior to bottling unfined and unfiltered. No additions outside of 20ppm SO2 at bottling. Super saline throughout, seasoning sapid plum, wild blackberry, Saskatoon berry, and gentle purple florals. Tannins are bamboo fine and firm, housing the subtlety ripe purple / blue fruit to a lingering, medicinal / herbal scrubbed finish. So youthful, but so present and mesmerizing. Incredible tribute to this ancient vineyard. 93/100 (03/20) TR

Ochota Barrels 186 2018 Blewitt Springs, McLaren Vale, Australia
13.8% alcohol. From bush vine Grenache, planted in 1947. Whole bunches fermented in a puncheon with the head removed, left on the skins for 186 days. Just 288 bottles made. This is very fine and expressive with red fruits and a nice sappiness. This is pure with lovely precision and focus. It doesn’t lack concentration but it has real elegance, with fine green notes. Supple, elegant, showing finesse. Thrilling stuff. 96/100 (08/19) JG

Ochota Barrels I am the Owl Syrah 2018, Adelaide Hills, Australia
Sourced from “the gorgeous section” of eighteen-year-old vines from Mount Barker in the Adelaide Hills, and produced in the most natural way by Taras Ochota and his wife Amber. Mine was bottle 1831 of 3828 of this year’s I Am The Owl Syrah. Opening with a tight dark plum, perfumed pink florals and wild blackberry carry along a very slight palate, lined with briar thorns and candied violets. There’s ample pink peppercorns seasoning the whole, while fine, supple tannins support through the lengthy finish. Very delicate and fine, and best enjoyed with a slight chill. 90/100 (09/19) TR

Ochota Barrels A Sense of Compression Grenache 2018, McLaren Vale, Australia
Violets, wild blueberry, dusky plum, red currants flow through this McLaren Vale old vine Grenache, leathery thick with sun, but bright with authenticity. Tannins are lightly sticky, and well primed for housing the fruit. There’s a splash of gew in here to add florality, not to mention originality. This wine was a joint project between Taras Ochota and Maynard Keenan of US Supergroup, Tool. After they established a friendship at Keenan’s winery in Arizona, the sharing of both musical and vinous ideas culminated in this cult hero wine collaboration. 606 bottles produced. 91/100 (07/19) TR

Ochota Barrels The Fugazi Vineyard Grenache 2018, McLaren Vale, Australia
You can feel the dry-farmed, old (71 years) bush vines and ironstone / gravel / red clay soils in this light but potent Grenache. medicinal and mineral leaden, with ferrous, medicinal cherry, wild raspberry, reships, graphite, leather lined, to a white pepper dusted finish. Tannins are bamboo fine, and perfectly sited to the After a native ferment this spent up to 80 days on skins and stalks, 80% whole bunch, in barriques for 6 months, with random battonage. Drinking beauty now, but with time to go in cellar. 92/100 (07/19) TR

Ochota Barrels A Forest Pinot Noir 2018, Adelaide Hills, Australia
A Forest Pinot Noir is a very apt name for this Adelaide Hills red. Clones 777, 114, 115 and D5V12 from 450-600m were native fermented separately, 85 whole bunch, and basked pressed to French barriques and one new chassin where it hung out for a few months prior to bottling. There are no additions outside of minimal SO2 at that end point. Light in hue, with wild raspberry, dusky young cherry, forest floor, sapid cranberry core, with fine, lightly grippy tannins around the sides. Acidity is crunchy and the finish is dusted with pink peppercorns. Unfined and unfiltered with intended authenticity. Drinking beautifully now, and will continue to do so. 92/100 (07/19) TR

Ochota Barrels Impeccable Disorder Pinot Noir 2018, Adelaide Hills, Australia
I don’t know about disorder, but this light red certainly is edgy. Youthful wild strawberry, earth, hops, herbs and flicks of moss stream through this light, silken Picadilly Pinot Noir, all 777 clone, organically farmed and native fermented. Soft on the palate, with furry tannins hugging baked plum, warm boysenberries, rhubarb and cranberry, trailing off into worn leather. This was racked from a puncheon into bottle with minimal SO2, and no other inputs. 616 bottles made. 89/100 (07/19) TR

Ochota Barrels Home… Pinot Noir 2018, Adelaide Hills, Australia
After making it through the impressive / annoying two layers and colours of wax (so pretty though), this incredibly spicy, tight and characterful pinot opens. Tomato plant, wild herbs (chervil, tarragon, parsley, chives), rhubarb, cranberry, medicinal anise, white cherry buoy from this bright and lifted red, crunchy with acidity and alive. As the wine opens, more tart red fruit shines, along with a lovely gentle earthy scent. Quite memorable. This was made entirely by Amber Ochota, down to the photo of the poppy field she shot while cycling that adorns the label. This tiny organically farmed vineyard is a mix of clones, was handpicked by the family in under 2 hours, and whole bunch native fermented, basked pressed, and bottled without any additions or filtering. 298 bottles. 93/100 (07/19) TR

Ochota Barrels From the North Mourvèdre 2018, Barossa Valley, Australia
Taras Ochota is synonymous with idiosyncratic and deliciously smashable wines from Adelaide Hills. This, then, Mourvèdre from Barossa, is a beautiful anomaly. This special vineyard was planted in 1869 on decomposed granite and quartz. After native ferment and gentle hand pigeage (the bottom grapes fermented semi-carbonically), this was basket pressed after 12 days into older French barriques where it rested for three months. Blending, tank settling, and bottling unfined and unfiltered with a smidge of CO2 were the only interventions before what is in the glass. Alluring purple fruited and floral, with liquorice, plum and cherry leather lining the slight frame. There’s an impressive pixellated texture brightening the pure plum core, with bright acidity rafting this to a shining, saline finish. A lovely tribute to an ancient vineyard. 93/100 (1/19) TR

Ochota Barrels The Slint Chardonnay 2018, Adelaide Hills, Australia
This cool Adelaide Hills Chardy comes from 14-year-old organically farmed vines at 550m and on fractured rocky ironstone / quartz soils. After basket pressing and a native ferment on full solids in older barriques and one new puncheon, this undergoes weekly battonage for six months, and sees no MLF. Tightly wound and energetic, but gently cushioned and spiced by the rest in wood, this sings with green apple, verbena, lees, thistle and a wash of flinty salts on the finish. Lovely meyer lemon leads and finishes snappy and white honey kissed. This young wine grows with time in the glass, and in your cellar. 91/100 (03/19)

Ochota Barrels Control Voltage +5vov Chardonnay 2018, Adelaide Hills, Australia
Taras Ochota makes a lot of small batch, cool climate, Adelaide Hills wines, but this Chardy stands out. From a wee plot of organically farmed Basket Range fruit, this is clone G9V7, basket pressed with full solids into one puncheon and seasoned French barriques where it was native fermented, underwent full MLF as well as weekly battonage for four months. This was bottled without fining or filtration, and only tipped with minimal SO2. Fully reductive by intent, with flint, saline and marine notes ruling over smoked lemon, thistle, medicinal citrus, salted brioche, grapefruit pith. Not about fruit, this is an intellectual puzzle as you try and unravel the flavours within (an Australian critic infamously referred to this wine as being like chicken stock + anus). Powerful and confident, this youthful wine can overrun the glass now; best with airtime, or better yet, cellar time. 89/100 (03/19) TR

Ochota Barrels The Price of Silence Gamay 2018, Adelaide Hills, Australia
Such a charmer, and a characterful one at that. This Piccadilly Valley gamay is a blend of three clones planted in 1985. #GoGamayGo. However, a few years later, they were grafted over to Chardonnay. Sad. But wait! In 2013, Taras convinced the grower to chainsaw off the chardy grafts and bring back canes from the Gamay rootstock – and it worked. This resulting wine, made in very small lots (my bottle was 244 of 1208), is light and delicate, with wild strawberries, cherry, red fruit and flowers, bound with whisper-weight tannins and fine spices. Such an alluring wine, and at 11.8 degrees, an effortlessly smashable one as well (though, tragically much less so at this Canadian price). 90/100 (01/19) TR

Ochota Barrels Texture Like Sun 2018, Adelaide Hills, Australia
Yes, i’m a messy colourblind, but this white on brilliant yellow label hurt my eyes with its illegibility. Thankfully for me, I’m not alone, and according to Taras Ochota, that’s the point. This crazy red meets white is a blend of partially cofermented Adelaide Hills Pinot Noir, Grenache, Gamay, Mourvèdre, Pinot Meunier, Gewurtztraminer, Fragola, Riesling and Chardonnay, 50/50 destemmed / whole berry, all basket pressed to stainless for a short four month stint, and then bottled with minimal sulphur and no fining or filtration. Wild strawberry, herbal raspberry, sapid plum fills this cloudy, light crimson glass. Acidity is bouyant and tannins are slight, with a gorgeous white pepper infiltrating the light body. Charming; chill, chug, copiously. I only wish it were half the price on this market, so I could. 90/100 (01/19) TR

Ochota Barrels The Mark of Cain Pinot Meunier 2018, Adelaide Hills, Australia
The Mark of Cain is a new wine in Taras’ stable, a small batch Pinot Meunier planted in 1985 in Piccadilly Valley, and named after the punk band he once toured with. Light in hue and mouthfeel, with graceful, long tannins gentle framing plum, wild raspberry, rhubarb, purple florals, and dried rosemary, lit with crunchy pink grapefruit acidity, and finishing with mineral salts. Subtle but streaming, light but lit, this is a chill-worthy charmer. And smashable. 91/100 (01/19) TR

Ochota Barrels The Green Room Grenache Syrah 2018, McLaren Vale, Australia
So lovely to see Ochota Barrels back on BC shelves after a four year vintage hiatus. We’ve been dying for more of Taras Ochota’s wines since they charmed us all at Vancouver Wine Fest during Australia’s magic theme year. Bet this is the first 2018 Grenache / Syrah you’ve had. The Green Room Grenache Syrah is one of the most popular out of all his experimental and avant guard naturalist wines. This year, it’s a mix of fresh, finely structural, highly smashable 92/8 grenache/syrah from The Green Room vineyard, planted in 1946 on red loamy clay over ironstone. Most of the grenache is whole bunch pressed and native fermented, spending up to 88 days on skins. After the ferment ceased, it was basket pressed to neutral barrels for two months prior to bottling unfined and unfiltered with minimal sulphur. Tight and crunchy, with sapid thorn, raspberry, plum, white pepper on the lean, 11.4 degree body. The hue is diaphanous, as are the lightly sticky tannins, both naturally and authentically expressed. The finish lingers with five spice; with a slight chill, this is a charmer. 91/100 (01/19) TR

Ochota Barrels The Fugazi Vineyard Grenache 2015 McLaren Vale, Australia
13.8% alcohol. From an unirrigated vineyard planted in 1947, producing tiny berries. Sweetly aromatic with ripe, smooth cherry and plum fruit. Very textural and fine with a faint hint of ginger and pepper, as well as fine-grained red fruits. There’s some fruit sweetness but also impeccable balance. 93/100 (05/17) JG

Ochota Barrels The Green Room Grenache Syrah 2014, McLaren Vale, Australia
Tasted last two years along, there are still a few bottles of Ochota Barrels on BCLS shelves post Vancouver Wine Festival a few years back when Oz was the theme region. Taras Ochota’s aim is to express old vine, single vineyard sites as naturally as possible. Raspberry leather, forest berries, dried violets and black plum gracefully filter through this 88/13 Grenache/Syrah. Eighty year old Grenache is whole bunch pressed and spends ample time on the skins providing a fine, deep texture. A generous dusting of white and black peppercorns season the finish. Acidity shines fine but bright, while mellow tannins throw a light rasp on the frame. Alcohol is a welcome 12.8 percent. Winemaker Ochota is one of the lead nonconformists of Adelaide Hills and the Australian wine industry. 92/100 (08/17) TR

Ochota Barrels I am the Owl Syrah 2014, Adelaide Hills, Australia
Sourced from “the gorgeous section” of seventeen-year-old vines, this was bottle 1482 of 2262 from Mount Barker in the Adelaide Hills and produced in a natural way by Taras Ochota and his wife Amber. Textured, perfumed dark plum, fine smoke and herbal brambled blackcurrant pulse with a taut acidity along fine, slightly grippy and cloudy tannins. Persistent violets dart in and out of the fresh palate, one that draws deliberately lazy along the medium body. Mineral salts vibrate along the lengthy finish. Whole bunch, without additions and rested ten months in French barrique. This is as pure and patient view of cooler climate Oz Syrah that you will find. Enjoy this beguiling wine over an evening. 93/100 (08/16) TR

Ochota Barrels Weird Berries in the Woods Gewurztraminer 2013 Adelaide Hills, Australia
This spends a couple of days on the skins. Aromatic and textured with notes of Turkish delight on the nose. Fresh, bright, focused palate is lively and pure with nice texture. 90/100 (08/13) JG

Ochota Barrels The Fugazi Vineyard Grenache 2013, Adelaide Hills, Australia
Ochota Barrels’ aim is to express old vine, single-vineyard sites in the cool Adelaide Hills, as naturally as possible. Here, organically farmed 66 year old Grenache undergoes a seven day cold soak, 70 percent whole-cluster fermentation with wild yeast and 82 days on skins. That’s about as pure an expression of site and as low-maintenance winemaking as it gets. The result is a light crimson-hued pour, aromatic wild strawberry, dried herb and five spice/star anise nose. The bright, fluid palate carries the same, across wild, earthy, salted cherry and red berry fruit, and enough crunchy tannins to call out for food. Allow it time in the glass to warm up to you, and you to it. Front wave of natural winemaking in Australia. 90/100 (01/15) TR

Ochota Barrels Chardonnay The Slint 2012 Adelaide Hills, Australia
From a vineyard at 600 m in the Adelaide Hills, this has no malolactic and is matured in 50% new oak. Lively and fresh with some matchstick notes as well as keen, mineral pear and citrus fruit. Very precise. 93/100 (8/13) JG

Ochota Barrels Surfer Rosa Garnacha 2013 Adelaide Hills, Australia
Whole bunch Grenache picked early, basket pressed to old barrels with a natural ferment. Plus 5% Sagrantino in the blend. Pale pink in colour. Fresh, open, supple and elegant with nice cherry fruit, some red berry fruit and a bit of crunch. Lovely. 90/100 (08/13) JG

Ochota Barrels The Green Room Grenache Noir Syrah 2012 Adelaide Hills, Australia
66% Grenache, 34% Syrah, 80% whole bunch, old barrels. So pretty and pure with floral cherry fruit aromatics. Supple, fine, textured and ripe. Rounded cherry fruit with lovely grainy structure. Stylish. 92/100 (08/13) JG

Ochota Barrels The Green Room Grenache Noir Syrah 2013 Adelaide Hills, Australia
90% whole bunch, just 18% Syrah this year. Supple, bright and savoury. Fresh, fine notes of ginger and sweet, lively fruit. Taut, chewy and pure. Very drinkable. 91/100 (08/13) JG

Ochota Barrels A Forest Pinot Noir 2012 Adelaide Hills, Australia
From 2 vineyards, this is 70% whole bunch. Smooth, rounded and supple with nice texture and some broad, ripe cherry fruit. Lovely textured black cherry fruit here. Really distinctive. 93/100 (08/13) JG

Ochota Barrels Home Pinot Noir 2012 Adelaide Hills, Australia
From a tennis-court-sized vineyard, just 129 bottles made. Taras says this is all about family, simplicity and long lunches. Very pale red. Pure, elegant fresh red cherry nose with supple pepper and herb notes. So pure and elegant with fine cherry fruit. Expressive and beautiful. 94/100 (08/13) JG

Ochota Barrels The Fugazi Vineyard Grenache 2012 McLaren Vale, Australia
From the Blewitt Springs area, this vineyard was planted in 1947 and is unirrigated, producing tiny berries. 16% whole bunch. Sweet, fine, warm and expressive with slightly jammy cherry and raspberry fruit. Lovely finesse and texture here. Warm but fresh with some spice and pepper notes. So fine. 94/100 (08/13) JG

Ochota Barrels ‘186’ Grenache 2012 McLaren Vale, Australia
Freom the Fugazi vineyard, this spent 186 days in a barrique with the head off, just 99 bottles made. So pure, fine and expressive with ripe cherries. Elegant palate with sweet, supple cherry fruit and some fine-grained tannins. Amazing elegance here: ripe yet fine. 95/100 (08/13) JG

Ochota Barrels The Shellac Vineyard Syrah 2012 Barossa, Australia
From Marananga in the Barossa. Smooth, sweet, pure nose with lovely black fruits. Supple palate is elegant and fine with black cherries and plums. Lovely weight with some spice and a lovely texture. This is an incredibly beautiful, balanced wine. 96/100 (08/13) JG

Treve Ring

Treve Ring is a wine writer and editor, judge and speaker, and perpetual traveller. [She is also Correspondent Anorak.]