Rise of an American Wine Negociant

The Oxford Companion to wine defines a Negociant as “a wine merchant who assembles the produce of smaller growers and wine makers and sells the result under its own name.”

According to the Wine Curmudgeon, this approach is a centuries old tradition that began in the French region of Burgundy.  Some well-known negociants you might have heard of: Louis Jadot, George Duboeuf?

During the recent economic recession, I picked up a part-time job selling wine nights and weekends for one such negociant.  The merchant is Cameron Hughes Wine Company.  The way the company works, is they track down orphaned mixing components from premium and ultra premium producers and retool them, and or they buy actual bottling blends.  Cameron’s family background is in the liquor and wine business, and so he knows a thing or two about over production in the wine industry.  He negotiates  deals with producers and a big part of the deal is that the producer is to remain anonymous.  The producers have expensive brand names to protect and so what Cameron does is offer something called the “Cameron Confidential”.  He gives you just enough information for you to speculate, but not enough to reveal the source.   Sometimes these deals can take months to come together, sometimes the deal never materializes and sometimes a deal just falls right in his lap.  Each deal that Cameron completes is given a “Lot’ number.  It’s the easiest way to track which deal is which.   I am reminded of the story of Lot 84.  According to “Cameron Confidential” This deal came to him through his banker!  His own banker had financed the original deal on the winery and now that the partnership was being split and the property being sold, he had a tip.  The new owner was not interested in running vineyard, or keeping the brand, he just wanted the Mount Veeder property for the view.  So within a couple of hours Cameron had his winemaker knocking on their door to buy all the remaining inventory.  The result is 2,400 cases of wine that retailed between $60-$80 through their tasting room and mailing list only, being sold by Cameron for $19! The 2 prior vintages received 92 and 93 point ratings. I had a chance to pick up a half dozen bottles of this wine, and now that they are all gone, I am wishing I had bought more.

With the recent recession, there has been a lot more wine for Cameron to choose from.  The recession came on so fast that most wineries had little time to adjust their production, and rather than lower their price to move product, they are willing to part with some of their juice.  In fact, some places have parted with half or entire vintages.  Nowadays Cameron is  not only buying the remaining mixing components,  he is  also picking up finished bottling blends, the exact same stuff that these producers are selling for $95+.

Have you ever heard of a 90 point Stag’s Leap District Cabernet Sauvignon for $20?  see Lot 100. How about a 90 point Chalk Hill Sonoma Cabernet for $16? see Lot 140 How about a 92 point Diamond Mountain Cab for $22?? See Lot 146 You get the point: Extreme value.

Cameron Hughes Wine was rated by Inc magazine as the 18th fastest growing company of 2008, ranked #2 out of the top 100 San Fransisco-Oakland-Freemont area businesses and ranked #3 in the top food and wine businesses overall!

Visit Cameron Hughes Wines website here

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