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Taras Ochota - #001

Taras Ochota is a winemaker, punk rocker, surfer, restaurateur and all round good guy.  His wines, Ochota Barrels are some of the most sought after in the country.

Our intro music has been crafted by Andrew the sound guy who also runs Lost In A Forest.  All good sound you hear is down to Andrew and guests.  All bad sounds are down to me.

www.ochotabarrels.com.au

instagram @ochotabarrels

Right click here to and Save As to download this episode to your computer

LINKS

Andrew the sound guy who f**king knows everything
Lost in a forest
Bloody Maria -  mezcal, v8, frank’s hot sauce, crazy boy salt & pepper, rimmed with cajun seasoned salt
21 years ago
The Austral Hotel
Ochota Barrels

Nepenthe
Christiania
Reggie
Ned Brooks & Joel Amos - High Hopes
Louis Schofield
Hellbound Wine Bar
Basket Range
Peter Leske
Rincon Beach
Seth Kunin
Rocket Surgery
The Exeter Hotel
Philip White
Adelaide Advertiser
Jim Barry
Kingswood
Blind Corner Quindalup
Meyer Lemon
Amor de agave - mezcal shot, chilli ‘n agave worm salt on orange quarter

 

Transcript: 

Please note, this has not been checked for accuracy.

 

Taras:
And then there was just this one little vineyard that was dry grown, thick trunks, low bush vines. That was just green, healthy, gorgeous leaves just singing to the sun. And just, you know, jumped the fence, went to have a look, found these gorgeous little berries that were just racy little red bullets.

Ben:
Hello, and welcome to the very first episode of Real Wine People. My name is Ben and I grow grapes and make wine in the south west of western Australia. Today's guest is Taras Ochota. Winemaker, restaurateur, punk rocker, surfer and all round good bloke. I caught up with Taras at his restaurant, Lost in a Forest, and had a lovely wide-ranging conversation about wines and life and everything in between. To find out more you can go to our website realwinepeople.com where we have show notes and links to what we spoke about today. I hope you enjoy this conversation with Taras Ochota.

Ben:
And that's a blood good bloody Maria too mate. Everything. So if we have any sound problems, we're just getting back up. I guess thanks. I'm here with Taras. We're sitting in Lost in a Forest upstairs in a pizza joint in an old church. I think service starts in an hour or so it might start to get a bit noisy later. How are you, mate?

Taras:
Good, mate. Good, yeah. Yes, just, what have we got in front of us? A little blood Mary, mescal-based, [inaudible 00:01:49] bit of hot chili. Just to get the brain cells fired up, I think.

Ben:
Yeah, nice.

Taras:
Being a Saturday morning and all.

Ben:
Yeah, cool. So, there's things that I'd like to ask just because I never get to see you and now you're sort of stuck here in front of me.

Taras:
Yeah, yeah.

Ben:
Did you grow around here in the hills?

Taras:
I grew up in Adelaide in the city. But Amber grew up in the hills all her life and when we hooked up 21 years ago, I was working in the Adelaide Hills vineyards. And she was from here and we were looking at buying a house, so we decided, "Well, if we buy in the city it's more expensive and I'm traveling up here every day so let's get a little cottage and buy it, renovate it." And we started our lives, I supposed. About 21 years ago.

Ben:
So that's where you are now?

Taras:
In the Hills.

Ben:
That place is?

Taras:
No, that was in Landswood. And then we moved to Basket Range where we are now about 8, 9 years ago.

Ben:
Oh, cool.

Taras:
Yeah.

Ben:
Yeah, great spot. How did you and Amber meet?

Taras:
Well, we had a, I was actually meeting a friend, this was back in 1998, at the Austral Hotel for a beer. Wednesday afternoon. And he said, "Oh, I should be able to get there but maybe not." Before mobile phones, those days. He never showed up. And, yeah, there's this beautiful blonde girl sitting there studying Indonesian and I was just working out a way, how can I sort of, "Hello there". So I leant over and said, "This is a good place to study." And we started chatting and what happened was we somehow got on the topics of Volkswagen Kombi vans and, at the time, I owned one and she owned so bang, there was a link because otherwise she probably would have said, "Piss off, mate." So yeah, we just started chatting about our little trips that we do and Kombi talk and that was that.

Ben:
Nice.

Taras:
And we then just hanging around each other. It's been 21 years and yeah, a couple kids, a couple of businesses, a couple of crazy times overseas. We lived in Sweden for a while, so yeah.

Ben:
Yeah. Awesome.

Taras:
Done some crazy things. So yeah, I think at the time we met, I was about 27 I think, 28. And she was 16, no, I'm only joking. You know, 4 years younger. And yeah, we just sort of in that time of your life where you're doing the crazy things and being slack and then sort of just started coming up with ideas. And I think the two of us together, yeah, we just sort of encouraged each other to do things. Motivate each other. And not just be a dope smoker who just went surfing and got the odd job in a vineyard. So she changed my ways, you could say.

Ben:
Yeah, a similar thing happened to me. So do you still have a Kombi or no?

Taras:
We do, actually. I was actually, I used to managed this vineyard in Woodside in Adelaide Hills and I had about 20 pruners starting work at 7 and I was running late, of course, and I got to this intersection and thought, "Yeah, I should be able to make it. There's a big truck [inaudible 00:05:31] down the other way." I was a couple of minutes from the vineyard, thinking, "I've got to get there. Get started. You know, 20 guys. And I'm not there." So I was second gear, not first, and I thought, "Yeah, I should be able to just shoot across in front of the truck."

Ben:
Oh no.

Taras:
And, yeah, Mr. Truck locked it up because I wasn't going as fast across this intersection and sort of careered off, because he'd locked his front brakes, and careered off to the right. So basically, yeah, just T-boned and basically the bull bar hit just behind the front seat.

Ben:
Right.

Taras:
I suddenly I was going sideways and then suddenly rolling. And I think I rolled about 8 times and of course I wasn't strapped in.

Ben:
Jesus.

Taras:
And I was just hanging onto the steering wheel and the seats came loose and I remember though just bobbling around with our German Shepherd that we had.

Ben:
In the car?

Taras:
In the front. And yeah, just sort of rolling and ended up in this paddock upside down, ripped the roof of, pushed one side to the other side and somehow I just crawled out the front windscreen with a little cut on my back.

Ben:
Wow.

Taras:
And the dog was okay. She had a little cut on her toe. And yeah, came out of the front windscreen like, "Whoa, what just happened?" And all my stuff's strewn all across this paddock so it was my life, I lived in there. And there was Milton Bitter can sort of pissing out beer and so when the police came they thought, "Okay, buddy, come over here". Tested me. I was obviously responsible vineyard manager so I hadn't been drinking at 7 am. And yeah, when the ambulance turned up they thought, "Oh, this is a fatality for sure". Looking at the vehicle.

Taras:
And yeah, I was just wondering around, like, "Hey, whoa, what just happened?" Anyway. That was the end of that Kombi. And that actually was a big change in my life because at that time, when you had a Kombi and your surfboards, that was my freedom. I didn't own a house or anything and just working sporadically in vineyards. I was playing in a band as well. And just living my life. But no real solid direction.

Taras:
And as soon that Kombi van was gone out of my life because I wrote it off, and I had to then buy an old Kingswood with the 12 hundred dollars I had in the bank. And suddenly I didn't have this bit of machinery that was my freedom. I could go anywhere. Didn't matter matter what happened, I could just live in that. So that made me think, "Whoa, I better start thinking about life."

Ben:
What the next steps are.

Taras:
Yeah. And so I think a few days or that winter, I was on a vineyard pruning. It was hailing. I'm on this hill. And back then you got paid 10 bucks an hour, something like that. And I thought, "You're not going to stop pissing all this money every week". Earn the money and then go woohoo on the weekend. I better start doing something a bit more substantial for the future and so I had a chat to Amber and, yeah, we sort of came up with an idea. Let's buy an old house. And renovate it. Grow hydro. That'll pay for it. Go on an overseas trip.

Taras:
But unfortunately Amber was studying teacher. She's like, "Uh, Taras, no, I'm a teacher. You're not growing hydro because that's illegal and then I would lose my license." So yeah, there's no hydro, darling. I'm like, "Okay, so I've got to work a bit harder." So we, yeah, just worked and renovated this house and then we went overseas.

Ben:
So that house, you renovated and that was, so you had the accident, the house and then Sweden was after that?

Taras:
No. So we bought this house, renovated it. We went, I worked in California and I worked London and so when I went to California to work in this winery, I bought an old Kombi van as well.

Ben:
Is that right?

Taras:
And, so when Amber, when harvest vintage was over, she came from London and we headed south down to Mexico, surfing and traveling out into the desert.

Ben:
Right.

Taras:
Went to these crazy festivals and, yeah, cruising around. But there's at one point, in I think it was [inaudible 00:09:54]. We're sitting in a little bar drinking Margherita and just came up with this idea to, you know, let's start our own little wine label.

Taras:
This is back in 2001.

Ben:
Yep.

Taras:
And thought, "Yeah, it's a good idea." And we came up with the name 'Hota Barrels'. Like a Ochota Barrels but without the OC. And designed this little logo-y thing and just came up with the ideas of what would it mean and yeah, it's pretty similar, you know, the idea, even back then because Amber, she's a hippie, vegetarian, animal rights, liberation, not into chemicals, big time organics. So yeah, her big influence on me in that project was to start with getting grapes that were grown well and just doing what I'd sort of learned in this little vintages that I'd done.

Taras:
And working with people that would just do wild ferments and we'd pick earlier to capture that natural acidity and not add things and just make these light pretty wines and I suppose, just a couple of examples and one big influence is this guy called Seth Canin. He passed away unfortunately a couple of years ago. I worked for him and lived with him and we'd just go surfing in the morning, go to his winery, work.

Ben:
This was in California?

Taras:
In California, yeah. And so this trip afterwards in Mexico, yeah, we came up with this idea but then I was going to uni, studying oenology.

Ben:
And that was here in Adelaide?

Taras:
Yes.

Ben:
Great.

Taras:
Yeah. And then had to, I suppose, get experience so I just started working for different wineries. Left the vineyards.

Ben:
Yep.

Taras:
And then, yeah, worked for [inaudible 00:11:52]. Worked for Two Hands. And then I got a job as a flying winemaker in Sweden, well, working for a Swedish company but working all throughout Europe.

Ben:
Right.

Taras:
And this was a company, quite big, that would make mass volumes for the [inaudible 00:12:11] and the Scandinavian market. So, yeah, it was quite a big change. Yeah, I might have embellished my resume a bit. A bit of bullshit, yeah.

Taras:
But yeah, you know, got thrown in the deep end and then, yeah, with that experience, especially working in southern Italy, all the vineyards farmed organically because it was the cheapest way and, you know, just wild ferments. No additions because they couldn't afford to do it and were making these amazing wines and not so amazing wines.

Taras:
And I could sort of see, yeah, from all this, I suppose, it just, you know, all these little influences sort of helped us develop our style.

Ben:
Sure.

Taras:
And living in Europe, drinking a lot of European wines, especially after working in the Barossa where your palate gets a lashing, you know, with oak and high alcohols extraction. Which I loved at the time, you know. This is sort of the Parker days, you know, it was early 2000s and mid-2000s. But then, yeah, the palate went, "Uh oh, I can't handle these 3 course meal wines anymore." I just thought I'd make a lovely light pretty gay wines. They're gorgeous. And, you know, they were beautiful so I just drank a lot of them in Europe and really that sort of I suppose influenced how we'd make wine.

Ben:
Sure.

Taras:
That picking early, looking at natural acidity and sort of that under-extraction. But still, the whole time, having that foundation from studying oenology and working for good winemakers around the world and keeping the eyes out really and thinking, "That works, that doesn't. Really like that, not into that."

Taras:
And, yeah, I suppose you just find your little way. But at the same time I was making wine for other people as the day job and this just had Ochota Barrels on the side. And it was quite small.

Ben:
What was the first year for Ochota? '08?

Taras:
2008.

Ben:
Yeah.

Taras:
Yeah. And I think it was 2 tons of the Fugazin vineyard grenache.

Ben:
Great. And how did you find that vineyard? Was that one that you were pruning at?

Taras:
No, no. I just happened to drive past going to a little surf spot.

Ben:
Right.

Taras:
Yes, sort of cut along the ridge of Bluewood Springs and you'd go through in the middle of summer. Stinking hot heat wave. And just see all these vines, January, February, just not really coping. And sort of basil leaves, yellowing or dropping off or just dropping. And then there was this one little vineyard that was dry grown. Thick trunks, low bush vines and it was just green healthy gorgeous leaves just singing to the sun.

Taras:
And, you know, just jumped the fence, went and had a look. Found these gorgeous little berries that were just racy little red bullets and so then, yeah, met the grower and went from there.

Ben:
And was it called Fugazi or that was your?

Taras:
Well, no, the way that name came about, the first two vintages we just called it single vineyard. Boring.

Ben:
Reserve.

Taras:
Yes. Yes. That's right. Even though it was our only wine.

Ben:
Yeah. That's how good it was.

Taras:
But there was one time, because I was making wine for other people and obviously during vintage, you're pretty busy. A few things on. And this little side project Ochota Barrels was not easy to manage while you're trying to manager 30 staff in your job or whatever.

Taras:
And so I ask Amber one time, we're going for a surf to the beach, went past the vineyard, check a couple of other vineyards that I had, you know, was making wine for other clients and decided that we'll pick that Thursday and I asked Amber if she could drop bins off at our vineyard on, say, the Tuesday.

Taras:
And she was like, "Yeah, yeah, sure, no problem. Which vineyard is it?" And I was like describing, you know, that one down that road and has that little blue house and yeah, she couldn't quite. "I'm not really sure." Because we went to a few different vineyards that day. And I was like, "You know, the one when we were listening to Fugazi." And she's like, "Oh yep, no worries."

Ben:
That's great.

Taras:
She dropped the bins off in the right spot. We made that vintage obviously. So we just started calling it the Fugazi vineyard.

Ben:
Sure.

Taras:
And then we thought, "Oh, we call it that, let's put it on the label." Sort of just to differentiate it. And then I suppose the same came along with the Slint vineyard. And we had an old Barossa vineyard, shellac vineyard and then, yeah, and everything related I suppose to my misspent youth playing in punk bands and yeah, sort of related to things that are sort a part of my life. Which was back then, a lot of surfing and playing punk music and listening to punk music and wine. Sort of just learning about wine. So I just put the three together and Ochota Barrels, that sort of little symbol was something we developed, I developed one night actually.

Taras:
We live near Copenhagen in Sweden. So there's a little area called Cristiano.

Ben:
Yeah. I've been there a few times.

Taras:
Where hash and marijuana is legal. So, you know, pop over there. And anyway, one night, just sort of involved in the culture there and drinking calvados, a bit of [calvados. Love that stuff. Apples on fire. And yeah, just came up with a little sketch which then basically was our Ochota Barrels symbol. And I just showed Amber that night and she's like, "Yeah, that's wicked. Lovely idea. Okay, see you Taras, good bye." You know, ignoring me.

Taras:
Because I was rambling on. This symbol represents that simple going back to Day 6, there's an organic hedge, it's to emulate texture and emotion. You know, it was like full ramble off my chop sort of bullshit. And so Amber's like, "Yeah, good one Taras, see you." Anyway, in the morning couldn't remember of that stuff that I was saying. A couple of snippets.

Ben:
Sure.

Taras:
But yeah, we stuck with that symbol. Stuck with Ochota Barrels and sort of just stuck with our style and yeah, I suppose the idea was to be unique and not follow the trends at the time. Becoming immersed in the wine industry. Had a lot of friends that make wine and I was always I suppose that assistant winemaker that was always to my, you know, my winemaker bosses who taught me everything I knew. I still know nothing. But I'd be the one to say, "Why don't we, yeah, pick it now?" And they're like, "No, it's green. Green as fuck. No, it's not ready, mate." And then we'd get it in the winery and I'd be like, "Let's do a wild ferment." You know? "No, mate, no. No. We don't want to make vinegar."

Taras:
And putting things on the edge and just wanting to experiment and so the only way really I could do that was to play with my own stuff and if it went wrong, down the drain it went. It was my cost. But I suppose having that experience as a winemaker and working for such amazing winemakers around the world, you learn the basic foundation and after uni and that, even though I'd forgotten everything, I think you still develop an automatic foundation. You come across an issue or a problem or a decision to make and it's just immediate. You sort of slip right into it and because all the stars in a way have aligned from your studies and your experience and if it's your own project then you're not because no one can say, "No, Taras, you can't do that."

Ben:
And when you had your first vintages, was there any pushback or?

Taras:
Not really. I mean, it was so small and it wasn't a lot to sell but I think we were lucky in the time that the wines came out. I mean, for example, grenache, I chose this grenache vineyard and no one was making stray grenache really back then. And I remember going out to the market with the first wines to a couple of shops and they'd say, "Ooh, okay, right, yeah, stray grenache, Taras, yeah, it's a hard sell. No one buys grenache." They said, "You should maybe make a grenache Shiraz or just make Shiraz."

Taras:
And that was the things that hit the wall but it just seemed the way I do it, the style to make it a bit more pinot-like so they weren't sort of those grenaches that were trying to resemble Shiraz or cabernet and that really helped and then just the market, I think, changed at that time.

Ben:
And you were doing all the sales yourself, traveling down to Adelaide?

Taras:
Yeah, yeah, and Melbourney and Sydney. Used to do it myself in the early days.

Ben:
Yeah.

Taras:
But then, as you sort of move on and certain people approach you and say, "Hey man, I can help you do that and make life easy" and I'm definitely one for making life easy so yeah, sure. And these guys were mates and I trusted them and yeah, they're still doing the same thing now.

Ben:
Great.

Taras:
All these years.

Ben:
So that's Reggie?

Taras:
Yeah, Reggie in Adelaide. There's Joel Amos and Ned Brooks in Sydney and Melbourne. And yeah, it sort of developed from there and really had no [inaudible 00:22:12]. Making wine is one thing, that's the fun part, selling it, it sucks.

Ben:
Yeah. That's the thing, isn't it? And if you don't sell it you can't afford to do it again the next year.

Taras:
No. No. And you've got nice pallets of wine sitting there in the warehouse. Yeah. Yes. We've been lucky and we've kept it small and made sure that everything that we do in our little shed at home where we make it is kept small and there's always attention to detail and I'm intimate with every ferment, very barrel without getting stressed. So our vintage is, we start at 8, sometimes I'm out in the vineyard earlier than that before so my dad who helps me and old Louie as well. Who owns Hillbound Wine Bar. So those two. They're sort of my strength three vintage and obviously Amber but she now, being a full-time mother and running the business side of things. You know, she gets down and does her little project, the home vineyard.

Taras:
But yeah. And we start at 8 and 5 o'clock we're sucking beers, or often sucking beers before that, but the roller door goes down at about 5 and even if things are, the crusher's filthy, the presser's still going, it's now 5:30, but let's just close the door. Can't see it.

Ben:
Yeah. I like it.

Taras:
Just deal with it tomorrow. And so yeah, we keep ti very, you know, don't work into the night. Don't stress out. Just keep it small and manageable where I can just do it myself.

Ben:
And as far as the style with the styles of wine making you're doing, not acidifying, bringing things in a bit tighter or I guess less ripe than the status quo. Are there any major challenges in making wine in that way?

Taras:
No, quite the opposite, I think. In terms of doing wild ferments and things going dry, if you don't have sugar levels the yeast aren't going to be in an environment where they're suddenly in a 15 percent alcohol environment that they don't like. I really try to take a holistic approach and so in a way I suppose our picking decisions have come about is that every year I push the boundaries and picked a bit earlier. Because it's the same vineyards that the guys use. And the same growers. And yeah, actually one problem would be with these growers because I mean one of them who, who, in our Fugazi vineyard, he was 17 when he planted the vineyard. And it was planted in 1947.

Ben:
Wow. That's the same guy that you're dealing with?

Taras:
Yeah, yeah. [inaudible 00:24:57]. He's amazing and so he's dealt with a lot of wineries in [inaudible 00:25:07] with that block and when I came along he's like, "Can we pick Thursday?" And he's like, "Taras, it's not ready." And I'd go, "Yeah, yeah, just make 'em rosé , mate." "Ah okay, yeah, no worries." And I'd just tell them I was making rosé And a lot of the growers, yeah I'd just say, "Yeah, I'm making rosé ." "Oh, okay, no worries, yeah." Because they were thinking, "What the hell are you doing? You're picking at like 12 [inaudible 00:25:30]." It normally gets picked at 15, 16.

Ben:
Yeah.

Taras:
But yeah, just I suppose, I love greener tannins so that sort of to me gives it energy. But with wine no one's right or wrong. It's all subjective and I just like that sort of energy. And it works beautifully because if you're picking earlier and you've got that natural acidity which generally it's hard to replicate that-

Ben:
With a packet?

Taras:
With a packet, yeah. And natural acidity just has so much more gorgeous minerality and then your sugar levels are lower so your alcohol is less and you have a lower pH so there's less-

Ben:
Spoilage.

Taras:
Yeah. And bacterial problems. And your color's brighter and it's racier and to me it would just make my saliva glands pulse thinking about that sort of nervous tension, that energy that these red wines would have and I make them. And even during my wine making years, working as an assistant wine maker and we'd make these gorgeous wines and through malo. And I'd taste them and go, "We should bottle. This is amazing." And they're like, "Taras, it's been in a barrel for 3 months. This is staying in a barrel for 18 months." That was the recipe and I'm like, "What?"

Taras:
And I'd obviously see how they turned out 18 months later and that's a style that people love but I was like, "We missed the boat." I loved it when it was vibrant and fresh and primary and so that's the great thing doing your own project is you can do whatever you want. And so I started just, my idea is yeast love to be warm. A lot of people, I suppose, have cold cellars and cold soak and cold ferments and I pick our fruit, a lot of whole bunch, jump on them straight out in the sun with a cover on and warm them up so the juice is sort of percolating down on that warm fruit. Get the natural yeast on the blue of the grape just to start fermenting. Create a gorgeous C02 so then immediately you're safe from oxidation and spoilage.

Taras:
And, you know, keep it out in the sun. And I taste the ferments at least twice a day and measure the temperatures and the [inaudible 00:28:00] and keep an eye on that. So it's bit of a technical, you know, dumb science but to me just being all over it in that regard and so, yeah, we'd use the sun and the shade and the warmth inside the winery at night if it was a cold autumn night.

Ben:
Yeah.

Taras:
And just maintain those temperatures. So things ferment beautifully, hopefully go dry quickly, go through malo dry. And suddenly, yeah, people are like, "Oh, your wine seems to ready." And it's just, yeah, not cooling things down in that cold cellar, that thing that you sort of learn that's the way you should make wine. And I just keep these little yeast that are having a little orgy in the Turkish bath. Just keep them going until they're spent.

Taras:
And suddenly, yeah, just let things settle by gravity and I'd have a taste and go, "This is amazing. I've got to bottle this now because I don't want to lose this vibrancy" and I that wasn't being done, I suppose, when we started out and so that was new. And at the time I think sommeliers were opening their eyes to stuff like that.

Taras:
We also had the 2011 vintage which helped everyone out there. The good wine makers in 2011 made exceptional wine. There was a lot of crap and it was a lot of-

Ben:
I'm sorry. '11 was a challenging year here?

Taras:
Very cold.

Ben:
Right.

Taras:
Yeah, and a lot of disease pressure and some wine makers made these gorgeous more European styled wines and that sort of changed I think a lot of the perceptions of that style of wine. And really it was, yeah, these amazing sommeliers that I suppose looking always at something new and they were finding that they're working if, you know, they're working in these lovely restaurants with these amazing chefs, they want to prop the food up with a wine that is not going to take over and be a 3 course meal in itself. It's going to be propping up that dish.

Taras:
And so they were really accepting at that time. We'd sort of talk in, I suppose, late 2000s and yeah. You know, 2010. And also amazing wine writers that really got behind little guys like us and sort of saw the future and really helped us, a small little family businesses have a go and get us out there. And their amazing words would sort of spread throughout the community and suddenly we're in all these amazing restaurants and people are loving it and then, yeah, there was the natural wine movement coincided with that and everything sort of pulled together and sort of going back to basics, being a bit more low-intervention, organic was important.

Taras:
And so that helped. So yeah, it was a really lucky place to be, I suppose, for us. And things just blossomed. So we didn't go crazy and expand. We just sort of stuck to our small scale.

Ben:
So you started with the Fugazi vineyard? So did Slint come?

Taras:
Yes. [inaudible 00:31:24]. Which was a Barossa Marananga vineyard. Barossa Shiraz. That was amazing. And then the Slint vineyard, yeah, gorgeous little vineyard in Lancewood. So it started with that and then, oh it might make a rosé. And then, oh.

Ben:
Been telling people for years you were doing it.

Taras:
Yeah. Exactly. Yeah. And then you find another grenache vineyard which is the Green Room Vineyard which is planted in 1946, certified organic and this old Italian grower couldn't sell the stuff. And I couldn't tell you the price I would pay in those early years, we've changed that. Brought it up to speed. But yeah, the poor guy couldn't get rid of the stuff and, you know, certified organics. 70-year-old crazy gorgeous grapes.

Taras:
So yeah, that's what happened. And then pinot, obviously being in the hills, and then gevertz and I suppose, yeah, we started making so we have 18 or 19 labels.

Ben:
Wow.

Taras:
And, really, I drink a lot of my wine, my dad, my wife, my friends, families, everyone. And I made all these wines just so I didn't have one or two wines to drink from. I had a plethora but it was my mainly just for my self interest. And yeah, it sort of started like that. And I suppose the idea of not adding things to the wine and trying to farm organically, it's the same concept of my kids get into our vegetable patch which we just grow everything organically, nothing at all just water.

Taras:
And it's that same principle. They go in the garden and they'll sit under a tomato tree and pull down little cherry tomatoes and stuff them in their mouth and grab a bit of basil and dill and stuff it in their mouth and chew celery from a stalk right down to the dirt. And there's no like, "Oh, stop, you've got to wash that."

Ben:
Exactly. Yeah.

Taras:
And it's sort of a similar principle with the way we make wine because yeah, we drink a heap of it.

Ben:
We were the same when we started our little place in Margs. We're building a house on the property, had a young boy, another one on the way, yeah, we wanted them to be able to walk out the back door, which was 8 meters to the first vine, and eat dirt or whatever they want to do. Eat a snail probably. And not us be worried about what they're putting in their body.

Taras:
Yeah. Definitely. I mean, probably Amber's more of an influence on that side of things.

Ben:
Yeah. I'd probably be did if it wasn't for Naomi.

Taras:
Yeah. Yeah. They're good, those chicks.

Ben:
Yeah.

Taras:
I mean, back in the day, because working in vineyards, I'd bring home a bit of RoundUp, spray the weeds and she's like, "You're not bringing that into our property." I'm like, "Honey, this is fine. This stuff's fine. Don't worry about it." And she goes, "No, it's a chemical. You're not bringing it on this property." Even before the kids.

Taras:
And I'm like, "Honey, you can drink this stuff." She goes, "Go on, drink it." And so yeah, that's always pretty funny.

Ben:
Did you drink it?

Taras:
No, no, but I was almost there just to prove a point. But yeah. One of those things. I'm pretty lax with, say, the use of RoundUp and [inaudible 00:34:54]. Or I have been. A little spray once every couple of years, should be all right. But Amber's been totally on me and saying, "No more of that." And yeah, it sort of coincided with all this press about it, that it's carcinogenic and bad for you and, you know, I'm a skeptic. I sort of go, "Yeah, yeah, whatever" but she's like, "Mate, just none of that on the property. This is how we're doing things."

Taras:
And yeah, she's probably the biggest influence in the way we've down that sort of organic low intervention way. So yeah, yeah, it's all been a nice little progression. 12 years now.

Ben:
Wow.

Taras:
I quit my day job making wine 5 years ago, no, 6 years ago.

Ben:
I think people would find that surprising. When you told me that I was like, "Oh wow." I thought you were doing this for 15 years by yourself.

Taras:
Yeah. Well, we had to pay the bills until that point where it's sort of catching up on things and we found the time where we could, where I could pull the pin. And it just happened when we had our first child, Sage. He was born, he's 6 years old. So when he was born I was working crazy, 100 minimum hours a week during vintage and just stressed out of my mind, different clients and staff and I didn't see him. He was about 4 months, I think, maybe 2013 vintage and I hadn't seen him for a week because I'd leave 5 in the morning and get home at 11 at night. And he was always asleep.

Taras:
And then one night I came home, and Amber was up with him, and said, "Give me a little snuggle." Had a snuggle with the little guy and he gave that first little hug and my heart melted and I just thought right there and then, "I'm not doing this again."

Taras:
So, then, yeah, back to the winery basically the next day with a measuring tape and measuring out the size of barrel racks.

Ben:
Oh, that's great.

Taras:
Size of this and that. And then measuring out where we had an old apple-packing shed. And so yeah, because I had been making a couple of small batches in the shed, dirt floor.

Ben:
In the apple shed?

Taras:
Yeah, just a basket round. And then, yeah, then I thought, "Oh, I'm going to quit work." I remember sending that email, sitting out in the sun, under the clothesline just doo doo boop, send. And it was a great job. Great boss. Peter Lesky was the chief winemaker and we still get on really well and he's basically like a walking encyclopedia in wine making. So any questions, he's the one to ask.

Taras:
But yeah, just that liberation of I'm going to build a shed and so, yeah, we knocked down by hand, me and my dad and a few mates and then, yeah, built this old shed, bit of concrete on the floor. Electricity. Running water. That was a perfect little spot because it's shaded by trees. We get a bit of afternoon sun if we need it and it just seemed like the perfect little spot to make small batch wine and just use the sun as your heat, the shade as your cooling. And basically where we live we've done so much work.

Taras:
10 acres, that we have. And a gorgeous old house we've just put a beautiful extension on.

Ben:
That hill is phenomenal.

Taras:
So, yeah, we're going nowhere. I'm going to die there. Really, it's a lovely way that it has evolved and it's nice to have this creative scratch in your life and that's what wine making is. There's a basis of science understanding but really it's scratching that creative itch, the artistic part of it that I love. And that's why I'll be up at 3 in the morning and I'll think, "Yeah, that wine, oh god, it tastes good". And yeah, it's a new one, what label will I put on that?

Taras:
You have all these gorgeous feelings and that's what keeps you, I suppose, motivated to keep doing it. And then for other people to appreciate it and go, "Yeah, it tastes quite nice, mate, really good. Can I get another bottle?" Sure, buddy. And to make a nice simple living and have time to spend with Amber and the kids. For example, Thursday we're off to Tuscany for a month on holiday. And so I'm a bit mental now, trying to get things ready for bottling and making sure the wine's all [inaudible 00:39:47].

Ben:
No surfboards on this trip?

Taras:
No, no, we're just, probably won't even, yeah, I suppose I should go check out a few wineries but yeah, I just want to sit around and every place we're going has got a nice pool and there's one area sort of on the beach, this little resort-y bit. We're just going to sit around and read and drink and eat and sleep and read and eat and drink and sleep. Yeah.

Taras:
Hang out with the family and just soak up some sun. Just to thaw out for this.

Ben:
It's cold up here. I found that out last night.

Taras:
Yeah. Yeah. But I love the cold. Love the autumn especially. But yeah, now it's winter. It can drag on a bit sometimes. So you just have a little escape and having that in your lifestyle is really just, yeah, pretty lucky. Touch wood.

Ben:
Exactly. Well done, mate.

Taras:
It's a nice place to be.

Ben:
I'll probably wrap up pretty soon. I'm just coughing a bit from the pepper on this delicious drink. When you were traveling, this is completely changing subjects, through Mexico, so you spent quite a bit of time on the coast.

Taras:
Yeah, so we didn't go far. We were just camping out in the Kombi and just eating tacos, eating Margheritas and surfing in spots that we probably shouldn't have in hindsight.

Ben:
Any sketchy moments or?

Taras:
Yeah, a couple. I'd sort of pull up at this spot and go, "No one's out but look at that little peeling wave. Shit, I'll just paddle out there" and then you're on a wave and you're coming in and you go, "Oh fuck, that's why, because there's a massive rock ledge there" and you go, "yeah, okay." So a couple of close little calls.

Taras:
But even the south of California, it gets a bit crowded.

Ben:
Down to San Diego?

Taras:
Yeah, and where I lived was in Santa Barbara and there's one little surf spot called Rincon, this just long right-hander. it'd get packed but just so long that you could, just... And I was sort of years ago converted as a getting an older lazy man to the long board.

Ben:
No stand up paddle board yet?

Taras:
No way. And yeah, so this guy I worked for, Seth, we'd wake up in the morning ready to go to the water and he be like, "Taras, man, there's like beautiful 3 foot peeling clean waves down at Rincon. How about we just go for a quick surf this morning and then we'll go to the winery." I'd be like, "Yeah man, sure," because I was just on salary, like whatever.

Taras:
We go for a surf. We stay there for 3 hours. Get out of the water about 10 and then it was an hour's drive to Santa Maria where the winery was and we'd get there, do the plunges with lunch and then he'd forget, we've got this dinner we've got to go to tonight back in Santa Barbara. So we've got to go at 3. I'm like, "Cool, man". So he was just a really gorgeous man, amazing knowledge and gave me that idea of you're only making a drink, mate, you're not solving world peace. There's no room for ego because you are doing nothing special. You're just making a drink. And just his relaxed way that he approached it all and his humility was what I really admired about him. SO I just try-

Ben:
To keep it along.

Taras:
Try to be the same. And I've worked around the world and, you know, you know yourself there's a lot of guys out there who think they're pretty fucking amazing. "I'm making a drink." And what's that word? There's some joke. What's the difference between God and a wine maker?

Ben:
Oh, yeah.

Taras:
God doesn't think he's a wine maker. So it's just ridiculous. So, yeah, just keeping a check on things and realizing that, yeah, you're just a... You know, you're painting a house or you're frying a steak.

Ben:
You're doing the best you can.

Taras:
It's nothing special. It's not like people out there that are saving lives or doing rocket surgery or whatever it is. We're just dumb fuck wine makers. Just remember that. But it is lovely when people get a bottle, pour it in a class, suddenly the glass is empty. Bottle's empty and they're like, "Whoa, thanks for that. That's great. Really enjoyed it." And that is is a nice feeling.

Ben:
Was there a moment when you were out somewhere, with Amber or not, unexpectedly and a table ordered a wine or brought it to a restaurant one of the first days?

Taras:
Oh, our wines?

Ben:
Yeah.

Taras:
I'm just trying to think. There is one cool little thing that happened right in the beginning, so it was our first vintage. 2008. And I always used to go to this pub called the Exeter Hotel in Rundle Street.

Ben:
Oh yeah.

Taras:
The Exeter Hotel, back in that day, had this amazing wine writer called Philip White. He worked for The Advertiser. He was there. That's where you dropped your samples off at the pub. He was there all the time. He was an amazing wordsmith, still is. But back then he worked for The Advertiser which is the big Adelaide paper. Anyway, their wine list there, I'm sure, had something to do with him and the licensee Kevin who love good wine. Their wine list was amazing and they were the highest place for selling Krug in the southern hemisphere.

Ben:
Really? That pub?

Taras:
That pub, yeah. I mean, you can go there now and get a bottle of Krug. I think it's 4 hundred bucks. But they fly through it. They've even got their own special butcher glasses that Krug, I think, have made for them.

Ben:
That's great.

Taras:
Anyway, so I went in there with our first release and brought the bottle in just up the bar, ordered a pint and Kevin the owner's there and I said, "G'day, mate, look, My name's Taras Ochota. I've got this little winery. I was wondering if you'd like to try my wine." He's like, "Yeah, yeah, sure." So he tries the wine, and he's looking at me, peering over his glasses, like suspect.

Taras:
And he he's like, "Yeah, tastes all right" and then he says, "Why'd you call it Ochota?" So I went, "That's my surname." And he goes, "Are you related to Ivan Ochota? Johnny Ochota?" And I'm like, "Yeah, that was my grandfather" because my grandfather lived in Claire Valley. Had a little vineyard.

Ben:
Oh, I didn't know.

Taras:
They moved from the Ukraine after the Second World War and in the '60s he planted this vineyard. And so yeah, he used to sell his fruit to Jim Barry [inaudible 00:46:23] and the co-ops around that time. But he used to spend a lot of time at the pub. And Kevin had the pub up there at the time and so he goes, "Yeah, I knew your grandfather really well because he was always in the pub. He'd smoke his specky filters and back in those days just driving the old Kingswood back road with your hand over one eye just to keep it in the middle of the white lines and no worries."

Taras:
So he was telling me all these stories about my grandfather because he'd passed away when I was about, I think, 12 years old so I never really got to know him as an adult. So he's telling me these cool stories and so from that moment, he's looking at me over these glasses, goes, "Yeah, yeah, I'll take the wine". And after all these stories he told me about my grandfather in the space of 15 minutes, I was so enlightened. I said, "Mate, how's this for the first deal. If you buy me another pint, I'll give you this 6 pack of that first little grenache Fugazi vineyard as a swap but it always has to be on that front shelf." And there's this one section in the Exeter where you see them, you're sitting at the bar and there's the cool little bottles of wine that I used to see. I used to go there when I was 16 or something, this pub, and so I always knew about this little section. So I said, "Yeah, as long as you always keep it there."

Taras:
And he stuck to his word. So yeah, for the last, I don't know, 11 years now our wine generally, if we have it, is on this one little section and he keeps it there. We have a beautiful gentleman's agreement. I don't swap him a pint of beer for a box of wine anymore but I'm sure he'd love that if I could. But yeah, it was just quite a nice to meet someone that has now supported us but, yeah, for him to tell all these amazing stories about my grandfather back in the day.

Ben:
Wow, that's great.

Taras:
That would be one little snippet. But it is nice. You go out to a restaurant and you see people ordering your wine and now we are Lost in the Forest, sort of our little restaurant and cellar door and obviously the list is a bit heavy on the Ochota Barrels.

Ben:
Fair enough.

Taras:
Because maybe I did the wine list.

Ben:
We need to talk about that later.

Taras:
You'll pop in to have a little Margherita and, yeah, see these customers ordering your bottles and loving it and, yeah, it's a great, great feeling. No one's hallucinating or vomiting, which is handy.

Ben:
Nice. Brave new world.

Taras:
Yeah.

Ben:
So where to from here? Are you constantly searching for new vineyards or?

Taras:
No, no, I mean basically we have a gentleman's handshake agreement with the growers and we pay them straight away and we stick to the same little blocks and we're not going to expand. Just in that nice little sweet spot.

Ben:
Not going to make some calvados?

Taras:
No, no, the liver would not be happy about that. But I've actually had that thought. I was offered the opportunity and declined it just for the health of my liver. Because I knew. But no, there's no more projects. We've put our little vineyard in. We did our extension on our house. No more children. No more other businesses. Nothing, actually.

Ben:
Great.

Taras:
Just to breathe now and, you know, I'm 48 years old now.

Ben:
Looking good, mate.

Taras:
I'll be 50 next year so an old man and so just need to take stock and smell the roses and that's one thing, I suppose, Amber's really taught me. I was always, you know, we'd go for our morning walks and I'd always be like, "Yeah, so how's this idea, yeah we plant this vineyard and we use single stakes and all this sort of thing" and come up with these ideas and she'd be like, "Yeah, yeah" and add to it. And I'd always be thinking of tomorrow and the future and she lives in the moment. And it's a much better way to live.

Ben:
Yeah, absolutely.

Taras:
And I try, I try. And I'm getting better at it, sort of learning this from her. But the classic was I think we were on holiday in Thailand, you know, and we're sitting on this beach and drinking a mojito and just been for a swim and about to get served some little chili prawns or something on this beach and just absolutely perfection and I'm like, "Yeah, anyway, so next holiday, yeah, we should go to Canada snowboarding."

Taras:
And she's like, "Mate, just enjoy the moment. Shut up." And that's when I realized, "Yeah, I've got a problem." And that's contributed to doing so many crazy things in our and it's been great but enough's enough. We've lived overseas, lived in Sweden for 3 years. We've traveled around the world. We go away a lot. And that's lovely and different businesses like this and children but now's the time to breathe and just sit around and watching the birds fly in the air.

Ben:
I'm the same a little bit where there's always another project on the go and I'm starting to realize that perhaps it's not the way to go. That yeah, we've got the vineyard and now podcast, I guess, but, you know, "Oh, let's open a pizza restaurant."

Taras:
Yeah. I suppose you took off a big chunk a couple of years ago and thought, "Whoa." But you did it for, I suppose, that future and the family and you did for the right reason. I suppose, you couldn't get enough organic fruit so you said, "All right, how about let's stuff our lives up and sell our beautiful house in the little vineyard and start all over again." Like you were saying, you had these mature fruit trees that you had to goodbye and let's plant little saplings.

Taras:
But those times will come around and obviously you think about these things and luckily we have our clever wives because we're pretty retarded. To sort of just go, "Yeah, that's a stupid idea, Ben, but actually no, that's a good one, Ben, well done. Nice thought." So yeah, we're quite lucky to have all that.

Ben:
Exactly. Well, thanks mate, thanks for the time. I think this restaurant's about to open downstairs.

Taras:
Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Ben:
Anything else you want to add or?

Taras:
No, no it's all good. Good chatting. Thanks for popping in, mate, all the way from Margs. And I'll have to do the same, if you want to get some cocktails out of the eski. Yes, definitely.

Ben:
Good stuff.

Taras:
Speaking of which, this is empty. I'll show you this other cocktail we make. So we've got a Meyer lemon tree at home, prolific, gorgeous, they're like a cross between mandarin and lemon. It's just an insane lemon tree. So we make this mescal-based Margherita with pink Himalayan salt but also there's this agave worm salt. So it's like dried agave worms with chili powder. So you get a bit of that on there with this gorgeous Meyer lemon freshly-squeezed juice, mescal.

Ben:
Are we having now?

Taras:
We're going to have one.

Ben:
Cool, I like it.

Taras:
Let's do that.

Ben:
Cool. All right, let's get Andrew the sound guy.

Taras:
And rock 'n roll.

Ben:
Cheers, mate. Well, I hope you enjoyed that conversation with Taras Ochota. Taras's website is ochotabarrels.com. You can find links to this and his Instagram and other things we spoke about at our website, realwinepeople.com. Be sure to subscribe if you'd like to listen to more. Thank you.

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