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Cameron Hughes | Wine Tasting | Scottsdale Phoenix January 2011

Cameron Hughes ScottsdaleFree wine tastings can be a great way for wine companies to get exposure in the market place.  For Cameron Hughes Wine Company, however, the free wine tasting held in Scottsdale, Arizona last Thursday night,  was a way to say thanks to their customers.   The private, invite only event was a “customer appreciation” wine tasting held to say thanks to their loyal supporters and early adopters of the Cameron Hughes Wine concept. Cameron Hughes Wine Co-Founder Jessica Hughes flew out from San Francisco to personally thank the 100 or so VIP guests  who gathered at North Scottsdale’s Hodson Jewellery Gallery.  The evening featured 12 new releases from one of America’s most successful wine negociants, and even a few unreleased small lots.  Guests were also treated to the culinary creations of Hashana Baker from I Love it Gourmet.

Row of wine bottles

An impressive selection

The wine list was impressive, even by Cameron Hughes standards.  California was well represented, and in particular the sub appellations of Napa including Atlas Peak, Stag’s Leap, Oakville, Rutherford.  There were also wines from Alexander Valley, both sides of Carneros and there were also some interesting lots from Chile and Washington State. Here is a quick list of the Lots that were sampled: Lot 182, Lot 189, Lot 190, Lot 191, Lot 197, Lot 200, Lot 208, Lot 216, Lot 222, Lot 225, Lot 227

Wine labelI found Lot 182 particularly approachable, and I learned that this particular Lot is labeled as a Meritage, but is actually a blend of 90% Cabernet, 5% Cab Franc, and 5% Petite Verdot.  This wine is a 2005 vintage and has over 4 years in the bottle and it is drinking amazing right now.  With only 1,700 cases produced and selling for $15 a bottle this wine won’t be around for long. See my complete review of Lot 182 here.

wine labelI also found Lot 197, a 2008 Napa Valley Merlot to be quite interesting.  I am not normally a big Merlot drinker, but this Merlot was more like a big powerful and ripe Cabernet.  This lot has yet to be released and should sell out very quickly as only 518 cases are available.  I was talking with Jessica Hughes and I remarked that I was really enjoying Lot 197 and she said “Oh that is reeeeallly nice, it’s from…” and she just barely managed to cut herself short.  Everyone who knows the way Cameron Hughes Wines work, knows that the sources of the wines are a closely guarded and legally protected secret.  The wines are often purchased with lengthy Non Disclosure agreements to protect the brands that are selling pretty much the same juice for $100+ a bottle. See my complete review of Lot 197 here

Co Founder

Jessica Hughes

In my conversation with Jessica I also asked her about the dynamic between her and Cameron.  I asked her whether they were like two peas in a pod, or more like a Ying and a Yang.  She said the latter.  Jessica said that Cameron has an absolutely amazing palate and actually writes most of the wine descriptions himself,  Jessica on the other hand is a natural promoter.  This is evidenced by the fact that she mingled and chatted enthusiastically and non-stop with customers for close to 3 hours.

As the event wound down you could tell the guests were so enjoying themselves that they didn’t want to leave!  Most guests placed orders for multiple cases and I got thinking that this was actually an interesting way to set up a new channel of sales. Pouring chardonnay Cameron Hughes has been relying heavily on sales through Costco, but it can be quite difficult to sell when you are not allowed to taste, and don’t have time to interact on a personal level with your customers.  Cameron Hughes Wines plan to set up more of these types of private tastings across the country.   How do you get invited?  If you’ve bought a significant amount of wine from their website, you will most likely get an invite.

A short video of the event and Jessica speaking:

See more pictures from this event on my Facebook Page

Cameron Hughes Wine Homepage

Wine Review | Cameron Hughes Lot 151

Cameron Hughes Wine

Tasting Room mini bottle

Cameron Hughes Wine Lot 151

has long been a favorite of mine.  If you are looking for what I consider to be one of the best values in American wine, Cameron Hughes wine is the way to go.

I recently received Lot 151 as a sample, and was surprised to see that this wine hails from the Columbia Valley.  Cameron has been largely focused on wines from California and this is his first wine from Washington State. Let’s take a look at the technicals: Lot 151 is a blend of Riesling 70%, Chenin Blanc 30%. The alcohol comes in at 12% and the production was 2,500 cases. Lot 151 retails for about $10.

Cameron Hughes wine Lot 151 color

Pale straw in color

The color is a clean golden straw color. The nose is quite aromatic and  features ripe peach and citrus with floral notes.  The palate is somewhat more concentrated than I expected and I liked it.  Lot 151 is crisp yet sweet, the acidity is lively.  This is a very interesting for only $10.  This wine would pair well with spicy dishes and also a traditional Thanksgiving dinner.

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