Deep Down Under with Taras Ochota
Finding your way around the Basket Ranges is no easy feat. GPS is dodgy and signage limited at best. Our instructions from Taras over email detailing how to arrive at Ochota Barrels summed it up pretty well: “First proper driveway on right. Merchants might not have a street sign. Some fuckwit put it in the creek (insert of a big smiley face emoji)”.
But not really having a clue where you are is part of the beauty of this small but incredibly exciting sub-region of the Adelaide Hills. Driving around these winding roads, with steep forested hillsides plunging down to small rivers in the valley bottom, is a real thrill (particularly if following Taras’ who drives at breakneck speed!). You feel that you are in the middle of nowhere, yet the centre of Adelaide is a mere 30 minutes away.
Tucked away down one of these barely signed tracks, seemingly isolated by a steep forested hill on one side and a gurgling creek on the other, is Ochota Barrels – little more than a small shed stacked full of impeccably kept barrels. “I’m obsessed with hygiene”, Taras tells us. He uses minimal amounts of sulphur to ensure fruit purity is paramount, thus impeccable cleanliness is an absolute necessity.
Ochota Barrels produces a miniscule 3000 cases of wine per year, all of which sells out pretty much in an instant, particularly the top labels. I happened to be browsing in East End Cellars a few days later, one of Adelaide’s top independent wine stores, when their allocation arrived. I mentioned to one of the staff that I wanted to buy some but wouldn’t be able to do so until later on in the week, “Ok”, was the response “but don’t count on there being any left”. I immediately bought up as much as I could carry back to Hong Kong with me. Not nearly enough!
To me these are wines that move beyond the mere flavours and structural elements used to define a wine’s identity and inherent quality. They are nervy, tense, vibrant, pure, textured and utterly alive. They dance across your palate, evolving and developing with each sip, making them incredibly exciting to drink. They are no doubt up there with the best wines I tasted in 2016.
The Ochota Barrels vision is a shared one between Taras and his wife Amber. After a lot of surfing/winemaking around the world, particularly in California, they decided to make their own holistic wines back home in South Australia. The premise is simple: biodynamic and organic practices that ensure living soils, lo-fi winemaking techniques and picking decisions based entirely on natural acidity rather than flavour profile ensuring tension and vibrancy. When Taras is picking Grenache for his red wines, he told us, other producers are picking for their rosés!
Texture is another important focus. Depending on the wine in question, mouthfeel is created by varying degrees of skin contact and battonage. If the stalks taste good, whole bunches will be used. Gentle extraction techniques – punch downs and submerged cap – help to retain fruit purity. Wild yeasts and spontaneous fermentations build complexity.
Spotting unique and incredibly expressive vineyards is clearly one of Taras’ talents, nurtured during his vineyard management days before he moved into winemaking. The majority of the wines he makes are from tiny single vineyard plots, most named after songs or bands, linking to another one of his passions – music. His teen and early adult years were spent playing in punk bands an influence that is clear to see not only on his labels but also on tasting the wines. “Edgy”, “raw”, “sharp” are some of the words he uses to describe the music he likes. The same can easily be said of his wines.
We tasted a selection of six wines outside by the creek in the middle of the forest, before heading to lunch at Taras’ restaurant Lost in A Forest in the nearby village of Uraidla where we finished them off with delicious wood oven pizzas. It’s safe to say, as soon as I can make it, I’ll be coming back for more!
Kids Of The Black Hole Riesling 2016
Full of zesty lime and floral notes this is hugely textural, having had full skin contact and lots of battonage. Amazingly chalky texture. Incredible purity.
The Slint Vineyard Chardonnay 2016
This was one of the best Chardonnay’s I drank during my entire 2 week Australia trip. Alive and seriously kicking. It spent two days on skins before being seasoned in predominantly old oak, with weekly battonage. Intense lemon, peach, pear skin and almond notes with a distinctive macadamia nuttiness it somehow melds together textural richness with a tense, vibrant, gunpowder, flintiness. A stunning wine.
A Forest Pinot Noir 2016
A blend of fruit from two different vineyard sites in the Adelaide Hills, this is pure cherry, raspberry and roses with 100% whole bunch fermentation lending spice and wonderful perfume. Great tension, very pretty.
Impeccable Disorder Pinot Noir 2016
Sweet, ripe, fruits of the forest berry fruit with a pleasant Campari, orange rind bitterness and nuances of shitake mushrooms. Chalky tannins, supreme length. Visceral. Delicious.
Fugazi Grenache 2016
Bright magenta colour this is from 70 year old bush vines from the Fugazi vineyard. Vibrant, perfumed red fruit – strawberries and raspberries. The grapes were destemmed but uncrushed to give100% whole berry fermentation. Stalks were thrown back in resulting in firm, chalky tannins and umami flavours. Extended maceration with 12 weeks on skins. 17 different barrels were used for the blend, all treated slightly differently in order to gain complexity. This is seriously good Grenache.
I Am The Owl Syrah 2016
Deep purple, slightly reductive in an attractive way, very tightly wound, sappy and slightly stemmy. Violets, blackberries, raspberries, chalky tannins, very fine, edgy and long.