The Endless Summer. This iconic 1960s film, following two surfers around the globe as they chase waves while discovering foreign countries and coastlines, perfectly captured the surf culture of the era and easy-going simplicity of the times.
To most, the film was merely a beautiful example of chasing your youth, your passion, your love, hoping that it will last forever. But for some, for the select few, those with an adventurous spirit and unwavering optimism, it could almost be seen as an instruction manual. For Taras and Amber Ochota of South Australia’s renowned Ochota Barrels Winery, The Endless Summer parallels their lives and love for surfing, with the addition of wine, of course.
Taras Ochota, a former punk rock musician turned winemaker, graduated from the Adelaide University with a degree in oenology. He developed his skills, first working with in Australia, and later as a “flying winemaker,” consulting around Italy in the regions of Puglia, Abruzzo, Sicily, and elsewhere. In the states, he made wines with many producers in California, including Kunin, Bonnacorsi, Outpost, Arcadian, Hitching Post, and others, always chasing the endless harvest, vintage, and vast knowledge that could be learned each step of the way.
Amber, too, was part of the wine world, working vintages in Italy, along with vineyard development and sales in Australia, and coordinating production and wine analysis for Nordic Sea Winery in southern Sweden.
Their experiences were remarkable and unforgettable, but both Taras and Amber desired something more - something their own.
In late 2000, the couple was at the tail end of a surf trip, driving a Volkswagen Camper along the west coast of Mexico. It was the last stop on a journey around the world visiting the best regions for both surfing and wine, when a plan took shape to create small-batch, low intervention wines back home in their native Australia. In 2008 this dream would come to fruition with the creation of Ochota Barrels. The wines quickly gained a following in the natural wine world and beyond, while in turn, paving the way for future natural winemakers to come.
The grapes come from both estate and purchased fruit, and the cuvées often carry names with song references, paying homage to Taras’ love for music. For example, “Texture like the Sun” is a field blend bottling named after lyrics of The Stranglers’ Golden Brown. The wines follow a “less is more” approach, utilizing spontaneous native yeast fermentation, controlled pigéage and hand cap-submersion, and only minimal SO2 at bottling.
The 2020 Ochota Barrels “From the North” Mourvèdre comes from a single dry-farmed certified biodynamic vineyard planted in 1869 in the eastern region of the Barossa. The grapes were hand-harvested, and cold soaked for 5 days before the fermentation kicked off in small fermenters, at which point Taras hand-plunged the cap, squeezing the berries, while leaving the bottom portion undisturbed. When the fermentation was nearly complete it was basket pressed to old French barriques and left to age for several months before it was blended, allowed to settle, and bottled unfined and unfiltered, with only a touch of added SO2.
In the glass the wine doesn’t only appear lighter in color than most Mourvèdres, but is also lighter in texture with brighter acidity and lower alcohol. Aromas of smoke, roasted herbs, and bright red berries shine through on the nose, while a taught, medium weight palate with striking acidity and fine grained tannins create a sleek mouthfeel. When matched with Moroccan Spiced Lamb Meatballs with Yogurt, Roasted Pine Nuts, and Crumbled Feta, earthy and savory herb notes connect both food and wine and the marked acidity cuts the rich fat of the lamb, creating a truly wonderful pairing. And if you were wondering about the cuvée’s name, “From the North” is the title of an album from Swedish hardcore band, Raised Fist, as Taras sees this wine as somewhat punk.
But just as The Endless Summer, all good things must come to an end. In October of 2020 Taras Ochota passed away at the age of 49 due to an auto-immune related illness, leaving behind his wife, Amber, their two small children, and a winemaking legacy that will be remembered for time to come. His influence has reached all corners of the world and his passionate approach to life and wine can truly be felt and tasted with each sip. Cheers.