🎸 Blowing Cells with Taras Ochota

Taras Ochota is a rare unicorn, making insanely refined wine in the Basket Range of the Adelaide Hills under Ochota Barrels. He makes wine that is both admired by his peers and more traditional wine drinkers, but also falls under the blanket of “natural” and is loved by everyone in that world too, including us at DRNKS. There are only a few others that can do this - find love in the natural and non-natural camps alike - (Patrick Sullivan, Joshua Cooper, Owen Latta), but no one’s done it for as long as Taras. 

He’s one of the original low intervention  / organic / natural winemakers in Australia, but he doesn’t “yap” about it. He sticks to his guns, and isn’t concerned about fitting in to fashion or the rules and regulations people like to construct. If that wasn’t enough to wrap your lips around, he was a king pin in Adelaide’s ’90s punk scene. I grew up watching him, probably annoyed him, definitely admired him. Did we mention his wine is brilliant? We’ll let the man tell you himself, as well as… a few other things. 

Joel Amos: What was the punk scene like in the southern suburbs of Adelaide in the early ’90s?

Taras Ochota: It was insane! So many crazy cool bands every weekend that let rip in so many pubs, clubs, halls, ovals… you name it. Not to mention all the bigger festivals. 
For example, in the city on a Friday night you could go see the Exploding White Mice and Kranktus [Taras’s band] at the Exeter; The Iron Sheiks and The Meanies on tour at The Austral; The Blood Sucking Freaks at the Mad Love Bar or The Mark of Cain and Price of Silence at The Tivoli.
Down on the coast The Holdfast would be busting at the seams with Where’s The Pope?, The Clowns of Decadence and The Numbskulls.
It was relentless, ear-ringing chaos.
The crowds were mental guzzling beer and oozing sweat, releasing all the energetic substances racing around their pulsing veins.
And then there was -
Saturday night: ditto.
Sunday arvo: ditto.

What was the most memorable show from the Kranktus days?

Ahhh memory… an obstacle that one. But many blurry visions come to mind. The Big Day Out playing just before Rancid was nuts. Those cats were the real deal. Kaboom. Zero to 100. They showed me how that day. Wow! Are they still alive?
But a funny one was playing down at the McLaren Flat footy club with The Bearded Clams. As we were getting pummelled by the surging mosh pit of units, some fucking little phycho grommet comes flying off the roof above us into the crowd. They caught him, then crowd-surf-hurtle-thrash him high in the sky. It turns out that little nut job was a 14-year-old Louis Schofield, who’s now the esteemed part owner of Hellbound Wine Bar, makes Worlds Apart Wines and has been my assistant in the winery and vineyard for the last five years. Crazy!

Can we listen to the songs online?
Yep. 25 years since being released I finally got around to putting a link to our second album ‘Heckler’ on YouTube

My drummer broke your drummer’s kit, I think, remember that?
Weren’t you the drummer, you little fuck?!
I remember something.
I remember you.
I remember loading into a Seaford gig, going into the loos, then sitting in the Kombi with the band peppering to blister a 30-minute, short fast loud set, then going back in, playing our set, then going back into those loos that now had no attached sink, toilet doors or toilets or ceiling. Then dodging letter boxes and smashed garden gnomes on the drive home after the gig finished.
I don’t think we played there again. Thanks Joel. Must've been your "mates" hey?!
But yes… memories are a bit distorted from back then… which continued for... not sure... can’t remember.... but now I am an upstanding citizen. I go to church a few times a week, it’s called ‘Lost in a Forest’, for communion etc. I dress my Burmese cats in space suits and go on walks with my beautiful bonka train family exploring the forests for a more holistic existence.
I’m 50 years old now.
Still love blowing cells.
Sooo amazing at it!
It just hurts so much more now!
I pretend I still surf heaps.
Just longboards as I love lazy, easy and slow.
When I pick up the guitars once a month it still sounds as shit as it did the month before so I put them back to collect dust in the studio.
But...
I still often play heaps of fast punk at full vol, getting the Hilux sideways around the vineyard mud with those same goosebumps I used to get when a packed room of young punk kids were smashing each other and slamming into the mic I'm screaming into, which would bloody my mouth. But the difference is back then you’d keep pistoning your bleeding fingers on those strings.
Today… I’d need a lie down, a 2:3 finger single malt ...and some mother’s little helper.

Why can’t I call your wine “natural wine”? It would be easier to sell if I could, you know. What is it? Because it's definitely not conventional.

Haha...Yeah, of course you can. Let’s bore the fuck out of people! It’s naturally grown and made, it’s in the natural wine subcategory of ‘the beautiful wine movement’ - clean fresh primary vibrant delish.
A fluff of VA lift, flinty reduction, or earthy brett, in balance can add to the interest. Can be so lovely.
But...
Mousiness!!!
WTF?!
This is an organoleptic disaster that can actually physically hurt. It can ruin your palate for an hour.
That’s an hour out of your life in pain, especially if beautiful experiences like eating and drinking everything beautiful in life gives you pleasure. 

Whenever you release a new vintage, you describe it as "tightening the screws", making it better and better and more focused. How does this process work?

Being more organised and on the front foot with experimenting in the winery and vineyard schmicking over the years. For example, we now use an undervine cultivator, so no nasty weed spraying so more worms and bugs regeneration = soil health.
We’re organic without any of the certification paperwork shit and paying someone for a sticker for approval.
More annoying rules and regulations to conform to.
We lived and wine worked in Scandinavia (yep… weird, hey?) for many years and it’s these little control bullshit things that people get sucked into in this police state world we’re moving further into.
Just do it like your home veggie garden.
Reason we do it?.. ‘Cos it feels right... For your family.... Friends.... You...
Not for some marketing yap.
I like simple.
Clean clean clean everything winery related. Fastidiously.
Taste taste taste.
Smell smell smell.
Trust your palate.
Trust instinct and experience.
Small, old seasoned (clean as a whistle) French barriques that are directly pressed into, so every barrel has its own personality.
No large format foudres, etc.
They are super cool looking, but the best part is the creativity of using my little glass and valence to come up with the final blends from all the small batches kept seperate.
No influence.
Not emulating anyone or anything.
Just tasting barrels on my own.
In the right mood.
Palate on fire for tasting, which can pop up any time of the day or night. It just arrives without warning. (“Hey love... I might just pop down the winery and taste some barrels...umm... ok weirdo husband... it’s 9pm.”)
Dim lights.
Right tunes.
Right state of mind.
Putting this puzzle together for each wine is the most creative-scratching, exciting, enjoyable part of the winemaking rollercoaster for me. From budburst as you dance and weave with mother nature through the growing season. We then somehow come up with this drink thingo called wine.

How have the screws been tightened on the new vintage?
Twenty eight years of winegrowing, winemaking, lots of listening, doing, not doing, travelling around the world with a foggy oenology viti degree in there somewhere has let me pick the eyes out to simplify it into making something that hopefully just tastes really nice. Not complicated.
And always remembering.
I'm just making a drink.
No rocket surgery or solving world peace from these melted brain cells.
It’s like cooking your favourite killer meal for friends. Such a pleasurable thing to do.

Why is the Blewitt Springs vineyard significant to you? The old organic one... How did you come upon it?

On my way to the coast for a quick little mid vintage surf during a heat wave, I found this old vine block with healthy green shiny leaves where other vineyards were shutting down. I jumped the fence, tasted these delicious red bullets and was amazed by this nervous tension they had. Elegant yet so vibrantly intense.
Blewitt Springs is super insane for Grenache!
I cannot think in my little peanut of a better hand-in-glove combo in Australia with regards to the actual cultivar, the vine age’s super deep, nutrient-suckin’ tap roots, their adaptability to South Australia’s temperatures, soil moisture variations, soil types, elevations, aspects… blah blah.
The pH, natural acidity, flavour and phenolic profiles available to make Beaujolais-Pinot-esqe variations right through to the serious grainy solid versions of depth and intensity.
Grenache is an amazing blank canvas to work with.
So lucky to have the opportunity… and that you pussycats support my family by slurping the gear. 

Thank you xx

Ochota Barrels 2020 spring release wines are available now. Run.