Core Wineries Blog

Apsara Cellars

Apsara Cellars is a perfect example of a winery that marries delicious and distinctive. They belong in your weekend-wine stash because you’ll want to pay attention to them. While they shoot from the gate with impressive fruit, their complexity quickly becomes apparent. They are under-priced in their category: $80 for their single-vineyard Cabernet is as high as they go. Case production is microscopic, running from 50 to 110 cases per. Looking at these numbers, it’s no surprise this is a passion project. 

The man behind the passion is owner/winemaker Robin Akhurst. His resume, present and past, warrants a double-take. He is the winemaker for two long-established Napa wineries, Swanson and Clos Pegase. His professional journey began in his home country Scotland where he “sommed,” then London to work in top-shelf wine retail. Scholastic and practical wine education followed in New Zealand, Australia and Burgundy. He moved to Napa in 2009 to work a harvest at Howell Mountain’s Outpost Winery where he helped craft wines of power and grace “Napa Style,” further honing his craft. Robin joined Swanson and Clos Pegase in 2015. He launched Apsara in 2012 (?). Read more about Apsara on their website.

Apsara is a Sanskrit word referring to a dancer who exudes balance, power and expression.  You get the idea. If I could only move this to the English vernacular: “this wine’s got APSARA!” 

I’m really looking forward to featuring Apsara wines and telling you more about them in my feature stories and wine offers. 

Get to know Robin Akhurst:

Your favorite home-cooked meal?
Mountains or Ocean and why?  
Tell us something interesting about clones, yeast or cork

APSara Cellars is featured in these Wine Stories

Allison Day
Benevolent Neglect
Ben and Matt at Southside.jpg

Remove a couple layers of Napa Valley “glam” and you begin to find hard-working, talented next-generation tiny wineries like Benevolent Neglect. It’s a common story, and one I love to tell. Young man works multiple harvest jobs to learn the art and science of winemaking in its many forms before launching his own label. Early in the journey, help comes in the form of a colleague or spouse. While keeping day jobs, the partners squeeze in the hours needed to make, age, bottle and (gulp) sell their wine. Maybe, maybe one day they employ and mentor the next wave of new winery owners.

It comes as no surprise, I’m sure, that these are the wineries I find the most exciting. While the wineries start with smaller bank accounts and marketing budgets, the talent and resources to make world-class wine are there. I’m excited all over again as I write this, and hope you, as a reader, are too.

Matt Nagy is co-owner and winemaker for Benevolent Neglect. From Long Island to New Zealand to Washington, wineries tiny to large, Matt has seen many faces of the winemaking trade. His resume includes Napa Valley’s White Rock, Outpost, Mending Wall and Matthiasson Wineries. Two modern-day icons of Napa Valley winemaking, Thomas Rivers Brown and Steve Matthiasson, are two important and noteworthy influences on Matt and the Benevolent Neglect Wines.

Ben Brenner joined Matt in ownership of Benevolent Neglect in 2013, the year of their first harvest, a “Las Madres Vineyard” Syrah. Ben’s background is in wine sales and service. From Sommelier and Wine Director on the east coast to consumer-direct wine relations and sales in Napa Valley, his relentless optimism and stewardship of the Benevolent Neglect wines is, in my mind, a perfect complement to Matt’s skills.

When I see folks working hard, doing things the right way, and most importantly making delicious, distinctive wines, then the good-guy factor means something.

The Benevolent Neglect wines focus on Rhone varieties Syrah, Mourvedre and Counoise. They’re not a Rhone-only house, however, as they make delicious Riesling and have Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay coming in the near future. The influences of Brown and Matthiasson are worth noting as I find the Benevolent Neglect wines to have a rich, decadent core of fruit (Brown’s trademark) as well as restraint and a cool sophistication a la the Matthiasson wines. Once again, we’re talking about the types of wines I find particularly intriguing and I want you to get to know. Case production is typically 100-200 cases per wine. They tend to find their “sweet spot” for flavor and balance around 14.0% alcohol. Little new oak used: 0-20%. And they bring outstanding value, meriting Very Good to Great values on my sister site, Dan Dawson’s Wine Advisor. Here are all my Benevolent Neglect wine reviews.

For more about their flagship wine (it’s their flagship in my mind, anyway) Syrah “Las Madres Vineyard,” read my store “Success With Syrah – Two Stories.” I hope you give the wines a try. Let me know if you do, and what you think. 

3 questions for Benevolent Neglect:

Your favorite home-cooked meal?
Chicken Paprikash
Ben: Pan-seared, bone-in Pork chops with roasted Brussel Sprouts - paired with a mature Barbaresco.
Mountains or Ocean and why?  
It depends on the day. I used to live and work in Glacier National Park, but Hawaii is currently my favorite place on earth.
Ben: Ocean - as a born and bread New Englander the ocean is both a place to spend time in the summer and the source of some of my favorite foods. 
Tell us something interesting about clones, terroir, yeast or cork.
Half of our Las Madres Syrah is clone 300, on of less than a handful of vineyards in the new world that uses it. It is known for being exceptional in Crozes Hermitage.



Kurt Beitler, owner/winemaker of Boheme Wines, exemplifies the grape farmer/winemaker relationship. He is both.
In 2000, Kurt came to the Sonoma Coast from Oregon to manage vineyards for Belle Glos, the Caymus Winery Sonoma Coast project. His skills, access to great grapes and love for Sonoma Coast naturally evolved into his own label, Bohème, in 2004. I’ve tasted Bohème since the 2010 vintage and, to a wine, they are delicious, concentrated and expressive of the Sonoma Coast. If this is all you need to know, great, let’s get you some. If you’re also into tasting how vineyard can influence taste, Bohème is as good as any winery in California to show you how. 

I’ve tasted Bohème since the 2010 vintage. They are delicious, concentrated and expressive of the Sonoma Coast. If you’re into tasting how vineyard influences taste, Bohème is as good as any winery in California to show you how.

You’ll read in my Boheme stories about the three Sonoma Coast vineyards Kurt farms: English Hill, Taylor Ridge and Stuller. They share similar geographies (5-9 miles from the Pacific, 600-1200 feet elevation), daily temperature highs and lows and low-yields of 1 to 2 tons/acre. But soils and daily weather patterns make the wines dramatically different from each other. Whether it’s Chardonnay or Pinot Noir, each vineyard tends to have its loyalists. I have my personal favorite of the three, but you’ll have to read my Boheme stories to find out which it is. 

Most Bohème wines are 100-200 case lots made in tradition “Burgundian” fashion. Alcohols are typically under 14%. Oak is all French, usually 15-20% new. Fairly priced, hovering around $50, these are consistently DDWA Very Good or Great Values.   

3 questions for Kurt Beitler of Bohème:

Your favorite home-cooked meal?
Wild King Salmon immediately comes to mind!
I pre-heat bbq to its highest temp, then make a 'boat' of HD Aluminum foil (make double layer if foil is thin and fragile), tailored to the size/ shape of the filet, with edges turned up like a shoe box lid. 
Directly on foil, squeeze one-half Meyer lemon, ~2 Tsp olive oil, salt, pepper and (most important): Hot Pepper Sesame Oil.  Stir slurry gently on foil to coat evenly, careful to not puncture foil.  Now place salmon filet skin-side-down on foil boat.  Atop the filet, squeeze second half of lemon, and add more olive oil, s&p and Hot Pepper Sesame Oil.  
Take boat with fillet directly to grill and cook (with no turning or flipping of fillet) for ~5 minutes or until skin is crusty, top is light pink and inside rare/ med. rare and translucent. Large stainless spatula (or two) works best for removing from grill. Pro tip: with tweezers, pull large bones from fillet before cooking. Pairs with Pinot Noir!

Mountains or Ocean and why?  
Mountains - I love the feel of mountain air.
  Also, how sound & light travel differently through thin mountain air.  Light has a sparkle and sounds somehow have closeness and greater definition on the ear.  Mountains also remind me of my favorite ski days growing up in Oregon, and bike rides above Crested Butte, Colorado. 

Tell us something interesting about terroir, clones, yeast or cork
Sonoma Coast terroir is highly varying.  At our 3 vineyards (5 - 9 miles from the Pacific at 600 - 1,200 feet elevation) we have soils that range from 'Goldridge': light gray/ caramel-color sand and clay subsoil to 'Josephine': red-hued (Iron) rocks at Stuller Vineyard. 

A key difference is that above 1,000 feet we have a fraction of the fog than below 1,000 feet.  Because of the prevailing fog at lower elevation, the soils at Taylor Ridge and English Hill are effectively re-hydrated on a regular basis, allowing us to dry farm (no supplemental irrigation).  The more clay-rich Goldridge and Steinbeck soils at these sites also retain more moisture!

At Stuller Vineyard, with its high elevation (above fog) and rocky (well-drained) soil, the vines grow in a dryer and more-stressed environment, giving clusters that are small with relative tiny berries.  The Pinot Noir from Stuller, with higher skin-to-juice ratio, is consistently our darkest and highest-tannin wine. 

Pinots from Taylor Ridge and English Hill give a softer texture with corresponding brilliant color.  It's fun to consider that these wines all grow within Sonoma Coast AVA, but express dramatically different and unique terroir.

Allison Day

I’d like to introduce you to Camino Cellars, where you will find some of the best Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon made in California. Total production for the three wines is around 300 cases, and the prices, compared to its peers, is extremely fair. Frankly, it’s a wonder the Camino wines don’t sell out upon release. Why don’t they? Because wine doesn’t sell itself, and owner/winemaker Tadeo Borchardt only has so much time.

This ain’t no pitty party for Tadeo. His day job is winemaker for Neyers Vineyards in Napa Valley, where he makes consistently outstanding wines and many of them (I’ve yet to have a Neyers wine I would not recommend). Thoughtful, intelligent, good-looking and seemingly at peace with himself, Tadeo has a good thing going all around. Family, job he loves and a tiny winery of his own.

And he’s busy. Raising two kids while handling all the responsibilities that come as winemaker at Neyers is more than enough to fill a day. Making and operating Camino Cellars is fueled by his skill and passion for making great wine. I’m a little bit excited to connect wine lovers with Tadeo Borchardt and his Camino wines.

Tadeo B opening.jpg

I describe the Camino style as strong in flavors both fruity and savory. They are big and mouth-filling while simultaneously showing appropriate restraint. I love the Camino wines, every one, every vintage so far. I don’t see this changing.

I describe the Camino style as strong in flavors both fruity and savory. The Camino Cabernet Sauvignon “Montecillo Vineyard” from Sonoma’s Moon Mountain District, for example, is blackberry/blueberry/black currant AND cedar, bay leaf and cigar box.

All the Camino wines are big and mouth-filling while simultaneously showing appropriate restraint.  I love the Camino wines, every one, every vintage, so far. I don’t see this changing.

In addition to the Cabernet Sauvignon, Tadeo also makes a rich and racy Chardonnay from Santa Lucia Highlands and a Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir brimming with wild cherry, blood orange, blue plum and wild rose sensations (aromatherapy in a wine bottle). Read my Camino wine offers for a full description.

The Cab is the priciest wine at $60 for the 2015 – these are very good to great values by world-class California wine standards. To beat the micro-production drum again: 3 wines, roughly 300 cases made combined.

3 questions for Tadeo Borchardt:

Your favorite home-cooked meal? A crackly-skinned roast chicken is tough to beat. The best pieces are the bites I sneak as I’m carving. Though just as heart warming, even more so at the same meal, is summer tomatoes sliced on grilled bread with crunchy Maldon sea salt and piquant olive oil – a slice or two of almost translucent jamon serrano on it puts the exclamation point on.

Mountains or Ocean and why?  Ocean. The feel of the sand and then the water has a visceral reaction. It radiates through your body. There’s a calm, an ease, and healing even when waves are thundering.

Tell us something interesting about terroir, clones, yeast or cork. Throughout my many visits with vignerons and farmers during my travels in France and Italy massale selection, or some form of it, continued to come up in hearty conversation. There is true emotion in not using clones and using cuttings from their family’s or friends’ vineyards. Using selections is part of their culture. This running theme was ever present during my time with my most cherished wine visits. I brought that experience home and started to ask the question of selections and how they play with vineyards and the resulting wine. Whenever possible I work with selections instead of clones. It’s my experience selections have a more diverse expression of the grape variety, vineyard, and wine.


Allison Day
Halcón Vineyard

We hear the story about folks getting “the wine bug” and starting a winery as a second career. That’s the case with Paul and Jackie Gordon of Halcón Vineyard and Winery. Their path to becoming winegrowers (farmers and winemakers) is particularly unique and impressive.

English born and bred, they have lived and worked in Silicon Valley since 1990. In 2005 they bought 165 acres in Mendocino’s Yorkville Highlands, a high altitude, wild, exposed AVA between Cloverdale and Anderson Valley. They got right to work planting (mostly) Syrah and made their first wine from their “Halcón Vineyard” in 2009. These two don’t mess around! 


Halcon’s flagship wine, “Alturas” Syrah, is definitively Rhone-style with its spicy, savory, meaty overtures.

Halcón’s flagship wine, “Alturas” Syrah, is definitively Rhone-style with its spicy, savory, meaty overtures. The wine’s fruitiness is like an NBA 6th Man, starting on the bench then making critical impact later on. (If my sports simile is not for you, the fruit starts slow then picks up a head of steam.) Its lavender, rosemary, minty perfume is one that buckles the knees of Rhone and Rhone-style fans, as many a critic before me submits. While they do well in wine sales, they deserve to do better. Their wines are that good.

Besides the Alturus Syrah, Halcón also makes Pinot Noirs, Petite Sirah and two Rhone-style blends, a red and a white. Most of them are from Mendocino in or close to the Yorkville Highlands. The wines are at least solid, sometimes thrilling, or something in between. Prices are very reasonable for what you get...they’re too low in my opinion. Total production each year is 1000-1500 cases: tiny. I’m gonna have a blast getting to know the Gordons & Halcón as I share their story with you and connect you with their wines.    

3 questions for Halcón:

Your favorite home-cooked meal?
Mountains or Ocean and why?  
Tell us something interesting about terroir, clones, yeast or cork

Keep Wine Cellars

KEEP Winery is firmly planted in the California “balanced wine” movement like a century-old vine. It is owned, operated and made by husband/wife team Jack Roberts and Johanna (Jo) Jensen. Like all of Flavor Mountain’s core wineries, Keep lives and thrives amidst the hustle-bustle of day jobs and family. Present and past work affiliations include Matthiasson Wines, Scholium Project and Broc Cellars, all believers that bigger isn’t necessarily better. These wines, like Keep, are wines made vineyard-to-bottle with talent and an aim for balance.

The Keep wines are typically 12 to mid 13% alcohol, have healthy acidities and minimal sulphur additions. Keep an eye out for the gamy, intense Keep “Kahn Vineyard” Syrah that comes from a remote nook of Napa Valley and is farmed by Jack and Jo. Albariño, Counoise and Carignane are three other KEEPers I encourage you to get your hands on. Prices run from the low $20s to $40/bottle and are consistently DDWA Great Values. I am certain you will enjoy the quality, style and value of the Keep wines and appreciate the diversity they bring to your wine collection.

Keep 1 of 2.JPG

You will enjoy the quality, style and value of the Keep wines and appreciate the diversity they bring to your wine collection.

3 questions for Johanna and Jack of Keep:

Your favorite home-cooked meal?
Anything slow roasted.
Jack: Pot au feu

Mountains or Ocean and why?  
Mountains with a view of the ocean.
Jack: Mountains, because I like pot-au-feu and cheese, and not necessarily in that order.

Tell us something interesting about terroir, clones, yeast or cork.
We always do native fermentation on our wines but make wine in a facility with other winemakers, experts say that whatever is dominant in a winery will just take over so native yeast is pointless but our fermentations vary so much that I feel that the science must be wrong. Last year for instance we had all completely varying fermentations ranging from 5 days on our Ciliegiolo up to 3 months on our Delta White Blend.
Jack: I am endlessly fascinated by the fact that yeast floats about everywhere with the single aim of turning fruit juice into alcohol...we are so alike.

Allison Day
Stellareese Wines
Stellareese 1 of 2.JPG

Stellareese Winery is more than a story of great, micro-production Cabernet. The story of its creation and evolution is worth your attention, too. It started in 2007 at one important Napa winery made by one partner and now is made at ANOTHER important Napa winery by the other partner. With these twists and turns, the wine’s evolved and improved while keeping its unique character.

The partners are husband and wife Geoff and Rachel Davies. They both grew up in Napa Valley, met in Calistoga in the late ‘90s and married in 2004, the same year Rachel started to work at T-Vine Cellars. Sales were her Job One at T-Vine, but at small wineries (which T-Vine was at the time) a smart, resourceful person does a little bit of everything. 3 years later, in 2007, T-Vine Owner Greg Brown convinced Rachel to make her own wine at his winery, and Stellareese “Marcey’s Vineyard” Cabernet was born. I remember the 2007 Stellareese. It was GOOD!

Through the recession, the sale of T-Vine, and the hellos & goodbyes to loved ones, Stellareese Cabernet marched on, making its customers happy with a fruit-forward, juicy, very tasty young style.

Then came 2013, an important year in the wine’s evolution. Geoff changed careers and took a job in wine production at Outpost Winery under winemaker Thomas Rivers Brown with Stellareese in tow. The exposure to a highly successful winemaking philosophy and a culture of world-class winemaking has lifted Stellareese to yet another level. But, interestingly, it’s not an Outpost style. More on that in a second.

Joining their “Marcey’s” Cabernet is the Stellareese Grenache and Chardonnay, both come from mountain vineyards and are sub-100 case wines full of personality and flavor. You’ll see offers for these two wines as well, but not as consistently as the Cabernet because there is so little made.

Stellareese consistency and evolution begins with “Marcey’s Vineyard.” It’s on the north side of Calistoga, farmed organic, dry-farmed barring extreme weather events, and is taken entirely by Stellareese (a Napa Valley monopole). As mentioned above, the wine from here is always darkly fruited, a little bit sappy, and smooth-textured. It has tannins but its not tannic. My wine offers talk more about the wine, vintage by vintage.

Vineyard first, winemaking second, and I’m reminded of how wine was made at T-Vine in the 2000s. Accessible, luscious, happy, gently oaked. And very well priced. These qualities are still at the core of its character, now the 2015 vintage. The evolution of Geoff as a winemaker, and the culture of world-class winemaking at Outpost, is like an elevator to the moon: It’s not stopping anytime soon.     

3 questions for Stellareese:

Your favorite home-cooked meal?
Bolognese from Rachel’s garden tomatoes and beef from Lewelling Ranch.
Rachel: Fresh tomatoes out of the garden, crusty French bread, good olive oil, fresh mozzarella and a nice glass of wine. I could eat that any time of day, multiple times of day and never get tired of it.

Geoff Davies Action.jpg

Mountains or Ocean and why?  
Mountains! Big trees, snow, fresh air, and of course, FLAVOR.
Rachel: That’s a tough one, but I’m definitely a mountain girl at heart. I love to ski, hike, backpack and trail run. I live on a mountain and get into the woods at least once a week.

Tell us something interesting about terroir, clones, yeast or cork.
Geoff: I choose clones:
The vines at Marcey’s vineyard from which we make our cabernet are Clone 7 Cabernet Sauvignon. This Clone 7 can be traced back to 1893 when James Concannon planted vineyards in Livermore Valley with cuttings obtained from France. In 1974 UC Davis registered Clones 7,8 and 11 in collaboration with Concannons original vineyard and developed three new Cabernet Sauvignon clones that were proven to come from James and his attempt at making Bordeaux style wines. I like Clone 7 because of the luscious fruit up front on the palate and then the complexity builds with dried herbs, leather, spices and a wealth of character.

Stellareese is featured in these Wine Stories

Allison Day