Hamish Laurie, president of Australia’s Adelaide Hills Wine Region trade body, was among those leading tributes to Ochota Barrels cofounder Taras Ochota following news of his death this week.
‘One of the most colourful and well-loved wine personalities has gone well before his time,’ said Laurie in a tribute posted on Instagram.
‘Taras brought a beautiful energy and creativity that greatly influenced the wines and winemakers of our region. We have so much to thank him for.’
He added, ‘Our thoughts are with [Taras’ wife] Amber and his family at this incredibly tough time.’
Having spent several years playing bass in punk bands and following his passion for surfing, Taras Ochota graduated with an oenology degree from Adelaide University.
He gained experience of winemaking in different regions around the world, notably in California but also as a European winemaking consultant for Swedish importer Oenofros. Closer to home, Ochota also worked at for several years as assistant winemaker at Two Hands Wines in Barossa Valley.
However, he subsequently became best-known for the Ochota Barrels winery that he co-founded with wife Amber in Adelaide Hills – an idea that had first come to the couple during a surfing road trip in 2000.
Alongside being dubbed a ‘rockstar’ winemaker by some, Ochota became a leading light of Australia’s growing minimum-intervention wine movement, as Chris Losh wrote in a profile of the winery for Decanter Premium earlier this year.
‘Talkative, laconic and self-deprecating, [Taras] Ochota does not act like one of the Big Stories of Australian wine. But he is,’ Losh wrote.
Alongside a light touch in the cellar, Ochota told Losh that he only worked with organic vineyards. ‘I don’t want to eat chemicals,’ he said.
Ochota’s wines have become highly sought-after, and include a wide range of styles produced from grapes sourced across South Australia, including Barossa Valley Mourvèdre, the winery’s ‘Fugazi’ Grenache from McLaren Vale and ‘Slint’ Chardonnay from Adelaide Hills itself.
High-profile admirers of Ochota wines include the Rolling Stones’ Mick Jagger, who visited in 2014.
Paying tribute to Ochota, Two Hands Wines proprietor Michael Twelftree said on Twitter that he would ‘raise a glass to my dear friend’. He said, ‘He was, simply put, a top bloke and I was so proud and happy to see what he and Amber had created.’
UK importer Indigo Wine said its team was devastated to learn Ochota had passed away.
‘Taras was a true force of nature, whose energy and good humour filled the room and made everyone he met feel special,’ it said on Instagram.
‘As a winemaker he created beautiful, exciting wines that challenged perceptions of Australian wine. But most of all, he was a loving husband, father, and a good friend.’