Cameron Hughes is not your ordinary winemaker. He doesn’t drive a tractor, lovingly prune his vines, and soulfully dip into his barrels. Rather, he sits behind a cluttered desk on his phone lines or his email or both searching for great wine that hasn’t been bottled.
Years ago in 7x7 I wrote a feature about local negociants, a French term that means someone who buys finished lots of wine from grape growers, blends the lots together into something better than each one was individually and then sells it under his own name. Hughes was one of the subjects of this article and at the time, he was flogging a wine he created called Cinergi. An idea ahead of its time, Cinergi was a crazy blend of wines—sangiovese, barbera, pinot noir, cabernet sauvignon—and his selling point was that “blends are better” than single-variety wines. The world wasn’t quite ready for this concept and Hughes had to retire the idea.
But he didn’t retire his own manic energy and his amazing drive to succeed at business. Rather, he reinvented his company doing varietal wines under his own name: Cameron Hughes Wine. Over the years he had made great contacts in the wine business allowing him to sniff out lots of high-quality wine that, for one reason or another, was on the market—usually these wines would come from wineries who might sell their own wine at $30-$50 a bottle, but had more than they could sell or some wine that didn’t fit. Some of the wines he would blend together, others he might market as a lot by itself. His new rallying cry is “Thirty dollar wine for $9.99” and he sells right now exclusively at Costco and off his website (www.chwine.com). Through his network, he’s managed to find great wines from Napa—including regional lines like Stag’s Leap, Rutherford—and he’s also found great wine from South Africa, Australia, Spain and, soon, New Zealand. The brand is now his name and the wines are differentiated from each other by lot number. Lot #17 is completely different from Lot #23, etc. It’s heartening to see that this brand has become incredibly successful and that Hughes, a cross between a day trader and a carnival barker with a true love for wine, has come into his own.
The wines are always indeed bargains. Lot 18 was a tasty Stellenbosch Cabernet and Lot 16 was an excellent one from Stag’s Leap, costing a mere $16, which is far cheaper than you’d ever see from an actual Stag’s Leap winery. Both are sold out, which can happen quickly with Cameron Hughes wine, but don’t be deterred—he’s always got something new coming down the pipe.