There is a glut of wine all over the world-an oversupply so significant that it’s compelled Australian winemakers to plow up their vineyards, forced French producers to turn wines into ethanol and brought wealthy Napa vintners if not to their knees then to their bankers in search of refinance. The reasons are various-new vineyard plantings by ambitious producers, increased productivity at a time of plummeting demand, winemakers who have overleveraged their brands.
The bulk wine market-which encompasses everything from wine in the barrel to finished wines in unlabeled bottles, aka “shiners”-may absorb some of this excess but with prices as low as $1 a gallon, it’s not going to help winemakers raise very much money, let alone make them rich. Except in the case of Cameron Hughes. He takes the $100 California Cabernets that have gone begging for buyers and sells the very same wines under his own labels for $25 a bottle and less. He packages them in generic-looking bottles with names like Lot 224 Syrah and 339 Field Blend… as I’m writing this a box of Lot 404 Stags Leap District Cabernet Sauvignon rolled through the door!
Cameron says that nondisclosure agreements with wineries prevent him from naming his sources, and each wine is accompanied by a “Cameron Confidential” hinting at its exalted-yet unnameable-origin that necessitated a number instead a name. “We sourced this wine from the vineyard of a famous Cabernet producer,” is the typical Cameron come-on for a $22 bottle. Another Cab was from “an $85-a-bottle program” in Napa’s Atlas Peak appellation.
Whether or not the Cameron Hughes business model is sustainable remains to be seen. The wine business goes in cycles, after all. Cameron said he hopes to “get closer to the ground” and buy his own vineyards one day.(And to be part of the next glut cycle?) In the meantime Cameron has managed to keep his mouth shut and produce some really good wines at prices that are almost too good to be true.
Here’s a pair of Rhone-style wines that Fred and I recently tasted… without a doubt these are the two finest reds in their section at this price point. I can say that for most of the Cameron Hughes’s Lot wines.