Apsara Cellars is a small production winery founded by Robin Akhurst and his wife Aneeta. Robin is originally from Scotland; his path to Napa is paved with significant international experience in various wine regions around the world. After graduating with a degree in Environmental Sciences from the University of Edinburgh he started kindling an interest in wine through friends. Becoming more serious about following his wine passion, he worked as a Sommelier in Edinborough. Next, he moved to London and worked for a wine merchant.
Wanting to explore more of the hands-on agricultural part of the wine industry he moved to New Zealand, earned a degree in Viticulture and Oenology in Christchurch and after graduating worked a number of harvests in Marlborough (New Zealand’s South Island). He has also worked harvests in Burgundy and Languedoc-Roussillon. Then he moved to Barossa Valley in Australia and worked for Two Hands Winery for a harvest. Even though the wine industry is global, the international wine community sometimes feels small and is fairly well connected across continents. It was here that he first heard about Napa Valley based winemaker Thomas Brown.
Before moving to Northern California, Robin recalls being unaware of the number of producers in Napa Valley considering it is such a small geographical region (about 1/8th the size of Bordeaux). Much of his wine insights came from prominent international wine magazines which often focus on a select group of larger and more well-established Napa Valley wineries. It was only after he moved to Napa Valley that he realized the numbers and diversity of small producers in the region.
After moving around the world for a number of years he and his wife initially settled in Napa Valley. Robin’s first job in Napa Valley was working for Thomas Brown, gaining additional hands-on wine-making experience and learning about the unique terroir of Napa Valley. We initially met Robin at Envy Cellars in Calistoga where he was overseeing their winemaking at the time. Today he is Regional Director of Winemaking for Napa and Sonoma for Vintage Wine Estates.
In 2020 Alisha Sommer joined the Akhursts as a partner in the Apsara brand and helps oversee sales to their direct-to-consumer clients. Her initial connection to the brand was through her husband Michael who previously worked for Vintage Wine Estates as a regional sales manager and already knew Robin. Alisha remembers accompanying her husband on a sales trip to California; she recalls the mild weather they experienced in the middle of winter and wished they lived in Napa Valley. When an opportunity arose to move to California, they did so, first settling in the East Bay, because friends told them not to live in Napa Valley because they would never make their way down to the San Francisco Bay area to make sales calls.
The focus of Apsara wines is on small lot productions from single vineyard sites in both Napa Valley and neighboring Sonoma County. Apsara sources grapes from sustainable and organic vineyards.
The 2021 Apsara Pinot Noir Rosé (100% varietal) is sourced from Sangiacomo Family Vineyards in the Russian River Valley of neighboring Sonoma County. These grapes were harvested to specifically produce a rosé and were fermented in stainless steel tanks. This wine is copper color in the glass with elegant aromas including of wild strawberry, some minerality nuances and hints of watermelon. Shows some depth across the palate with a light rounded texture and flavors of rhubarb, citrus (including grapefruit) and lingering notes of strawberry. This wine offers bright acidity.
Robin prefers Sauvignon Blanc that shows richness both on the bouquet and the palate. As he says, “it needs a generous helping of aromatics”. He also told us that Sauvignon Blanc needs to grow in alluvial deposits. With that noted, the vineyard source for the 2013 Apsara Sauvignon Blanc was from a slightly elevated site in Rutherford containing rounded river cobble. A small amount of Sémillon was blended into this wine – sourced from a historic hand-farmed vineyard in Calistoga. The 2013 Apsara Sauvignon Blanc shows tropical aromas including honeysuckle and citrus blossom along with a gravely undertone. This wine shows a pleasuring textural weight on the palate (in part from stirring of the lees) balanced by bright acidity. Individual barrel ferments were done using separate yeasts including indigenous yeast; each barrel reflects subtle nuances slightly different from the other.
The first vintage from Apsara was 2010, a small production of Syrah. Perhaps it was partially his work in Barossa Valley in Australia that influenced his decision to make a Syrah as his Napa Valley flagship wine. Or perhaps it was a cool weather vineyard too good to pass up in the southern part of Napa Valley. Either way Robin enjoys the savory components of this variety especially one that is grown in a cooler climate.
The 2012 Apsara Syrah Las Madres Vineyard shows an intriguing bouquet with layers of fruit but also a savory component. On the palate, olives and a touch of pepper show. The aromas are complex and layered with perfume notes, black fig, black cherry and leather saddle. The palate shows mostly darker fruit – it is balanced and anchored by a delicate clean finish. This wine will cause your salivary glands to start quickly working (all-natural acidity). The palate is clean and balanced; it is an elegant wine. There is not much of it; only a barrel was made.
The 2015 Apsara Whole Cluster Syrah Las Madres Vineyard (Sonoma side of Carneros) is dark ruby in color; the bouquet shows both fruit and savory characteristics with aromas of plum dust, sage, dried herbs and a note of fresh ‘pink peppercorn’ picked right from the tree still covered in its pink and white outer layers. Be sure to let this wine in particular breathe; the bouquet continues to evolve and opens to additional aromas of dried rose petal and violets. This wine is mouthwatering, juicy and features higher toned red fruits including red cherry, currant and not yet fully ripe plum. The tannins show a lighter style grip and are well-integrated into the finish.
Alisha calls the making of this wine one of the more ‘connected’ wines they produce referring to its very hands-on (or foot) approach in the cellar. This wine was fermented whole cluster (14 days) using indigenous yeasts and no additions. Careful attention to details in the cellar is critical in regard to managing the tannins. Robin never uses pumps on this wine. Rather than using a punch down tool with its sharper edges, punch downs are conducted by foot treading and using their hands to break up the cap each day during fermentation. The wine is later gently pressed using a hand press. Robin’s role as a winemaker is that of a guide, making decisions based on individual fermentations and constantly tasting as the wine moves towards being dry.
The 2018 Apsara Cabernet Sauvignon offers pretty aromatics with a sweet core including cassis, red licorice, cloves and cardamom along with dried herbs and hints of dust. The palate is layered with juicy, lively and mouthwatering flavors of blackberry and darker cherry. This wine has depth and should be on the list of any serious Cabernet Sauvignon Napaphile. The tannins are earthy and long lasting and reminded us more of a mountain site rather than the source vineyard located on the valley floor in Calistoga.
The 2015 Apsara Cabernet Sauvignon Amoenus Vineyard is dark ruby in color; the bouquet offers lively aromatics with sweet aromas of blackberry, boysenberry and cassis along with rose petal. The tannins are broadly distributed, slightly dusty and long-lived with a noticeable grip, but are not coarse in their textural feel. The finish lingers with hints of dried tobacco leaf. This wine is very balanced and showing nicely seven years post vintage date at the time of our tasting. It was aged 18 months in 100% new French oak.
The 2012 Apsara Cabernet Sauvignon is from the Kenefick Ranch Vineyard in a noted part of Calistoga, neighbors to Araujo Estate. The nose is lively with a darker undertone to the bouquet that continues onto the palate. The tannins are there but do not dominate; they are dusty, broad and for a young wine, well integrated into the palate. A delicate kiss of oak also shows towards the finish.
Moving forward expect to see more Apsara wines from Sonoma County vineyards although Apsara will continue to produce small lot bottlings from Napa Valley, primarily for wine club members.
Honoring linguistic heritage and his wife’s own India based roots, Apsara is Sanskrit word that means “angelic dancer”. For their own wines, the name represents a certain style focusing on wines that have balance, purity and are expressive in character.
With an annual production of under 500 cases, their wines are mostly sold directly with a small amount distributed in California and Washington. Some of each bottlings are only produced in quantities of a barrel or less. The wines are very reasonably priced. 3% of their net profit is donated to The Union of Concerned Scientists – an organization that works on clean energy initiatives and works to fight global warming among other causes.
Tastings are by appointment for serious wine enthusiasts and are hosted with either Robin or Alisha at Clos Pegase Winery (where the Apsara wines are produced). For more information or to become an Apsara member, visit: www.apsaracellars.com