Lot Series with Cameron Hughes


Cameron Hughes makes a “lot” of wine. Growing up in Modesto, California, wine was never far from Cameron’s line of sight. In fact, his entry into the wine business could have easily been considered a foregone conclusion. His father, Steve Hughes invited him to work one summer in support of his direct-marketing team at his wine company. Cameron found he loved selling wine, and seemed to be good at it.

Once bitten by the wine bug, he sold his wine collection and wrote a business plan for a négociant company. Along with wife and business partner Jessica Kogan, he founded Cameron Hughes Wine, to take advantage of the excess juice and fruit during the “wine glut” in the early part of the decade. In 2001, they began by selling wine from the back of their Volvo.

Cameron works with producers and winery owners to purchase their “finished” wines – and sometimes, finishes them himself. He also works with wine growers to make wine in their vineyard with his company’s oversight. A hallmark, some would say a selling point, is that he maintains confidentiality of the original sources of both the wine and the fruit. With several labels in the CHW portfolio, there could be as many as 70 or 100 different wines on the market at one time – though their “Lot series” has become synonymous with Cameron Hughes.

Join us as we talk with Cameron about the trials and tribulations of being a négociant in the world of wine.

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Show #293
(55:07min 50MB)

11 Responses to “Lot Series with Cameron Hughes”

  1. 1 Catherine Sep 14th, 2011 at 12:09 am

    I’m a big fan of Cameron Hughes Wine, huge kudos to the success that Cameron and his wife have achieved.

  2. 2 michael Sep 14th, 2011 at 4:15 pm

    very revealing. Hughes’s attitude to the business is revolting to me. however, his success is only a symptom of how sick the market is. mostly composed of ignorant, or fearful, or conspicuous-consuming, or lemming-like consumers. well, maybe this symptom is also a partial cure: selling “$100” bottles of wine for $30 tells us SOMETHING about pricing.

    In a blue moon, I would pay over $30 for a bottle, but it won’t be the latest fat Napa cab or the latest Lot either.

  3. 3 Kevin Sep 15th, 2011 at 6:41 pm

    What is revolting about his attitude? I find him a very savvy knowledgeable entrepreneur, perhaps you don’t understand business or it isn’t as glamorous and enchanting as you envisioned it to be. Maybe you are one of those who don’t want to know how the proverbial sausage is made, you just want to eat it and you would be revolted if you knew the truth about how the sausage is actually made. If that is the case then yeah, this interview was not for you. Perhaps you would just rather hear people gushing about how good something tastes over and over, which in that case you might want to tune into the splendid table, maybe that would be more your speed.

  4. 4 Bob Davis Sep 16th, 2011 at 7:02 am

    A fascinating interview. I don’t understand what is revolting about Cameron’s take on the business. It seems that he’s the anti-conspicuous-consumer. I’ll have to give them a try.

  5. 5 michael Sep 16th, 2011 at 8:28 am

    Bob, you are right. It is fascinating. And you are right that there’s a healthy anti-conspicuous-consumption element to Cameron’s business. That said, I guess there are two things that repel me.

    First (and this is not Cameron’s fault), the industrialization of the wine business in many of the big growing regions, where fruit, and wood, and crush become commodities, and like commodities they are practically fungible on the palate. Okay, there is still a scale of quality, but it’s monochromatic.

    Second, I just find the personality offensive — full of himself, full of jargon, like so many big-dick-swinging, small-time businessmen I have known. It’s tedious. -michael

  6. 6 Labelle Sep 20th, 2011 at 8:55 am

    Yeah, I’m not a fan of his demeanor or personality – though the interview is interesting. When aesthetic things like wine and art become industrialized, you’re always going to get these types of folks.

  7. 7 Tommy Sep 20th, 2011 at 12:38 pm

    TEDIOUS..Michael look in the mirror DUDE!!!

  8. 8 Bob Davis Sep 21st, 2011 at 3:43 am

    I now get your point. If I understand your use of fungible then I agree. To take it a bit further I think you can say that about even some of the smaller wineries. I’ve found dozens of wines (Syrah for one) that I really like but the small differences between producers has led me to making buying decisions, at times, dependent on how much I like the producer. So I find even small producers interchangeable.

    As for his personality, he does seem quite confident. I’d have to try some of the wines to see it it’s justified. I’m sure he’s a pretty good salesman.

  9. 9 michael Sep 21st, 2011 at 7:45 am


    Syrah is a great example of how some producers can be “interchangeable.” Bear with me now, because you have opened the floodgates of my wild-eyed vinous didacticism, and here comes an extended analogy that my English teachers used to call a “conceit.”

    The variety of styles available from Syrah is like the diversity of the human genome. There is more genetic diversity in Africa than anywhere else. Human genetic diversity in native populations decreases in proportion to the distance from Africa. The “bottleneck theory” accounts for this; small populations emigrated from Africa taking with them only a small subset of the gene pool.

    Similarly, in Syrah, diversity decreases in proportion to the distance from France. But the loss of diversity is due more to cultural factors than to genetic ones. Two cultural factors in new-world winemaking tend to push most wineries’ expression of that noble grape into the same corner. One is extreme ripeness. The other is abusive application of wood. It’s no secret that the new world Syrahs tend to be very big and very ripe. With extreme ripeness, diversity of fruit flavors tends to reduce. Even varietal characteristics fade away. Everything drifts towards the high-octane-cherry-cola-with-a-touch-of-stewed-prunes end of the spectrum. It is to the point where, even radically different varietals start to taste the same. A huge, new-world Syrah tastes a lot like a hugh new-world Pinot Noir. How weird is that? Contrast with France: what could be more different than a Cornas (Syrah) and a Irancy (Pinot Noir)?

    For a simpler reason, the use of copious new oak also reduces diversity — wood is wood. Okay, I’m oversimplifying a little, but in young, ripe wines, new wood buries what little diversity is left. It is used and abused as a flavoring ingredient. That masks much of what I find interesting in wine and, I think, is generally wrong for wines that are not going to be cellared for a long time.

    I could go on and on. In fact, you should have me on your show. It would be pretty original. I’m a winemaker who does not want to sell any wine. I’m a wine writer who never does “tastings” or publishes “ratings.” I’m an experienced wine drinker with millions in the bank who rarely spends more than $15 on a bottle.

    Thanks for reading. -michael (himichael@post.harvard.edu)

  10. 10 Bob Davis Sep 21st, 2011 at 8:00 am

    IMHO, you’re correct about manipulation (correct word?) being a cause of lack of diversity among producers. I had not though of it that way.

    About 11 years ago I visited a popular Sonoma County winery and we were doing barrel samples. First the Pinots which I really liked, always had liked, and still do. We next moved onto the Syrahs and I was struck by how much the Pinots tasted like the Syrahs. To me they were almost the sames wines but with the Pinots at close to double the price. Ripeness and oak made them quite similar.

  11. 11 davis bobbington Sep 21st, 2011 at 8:25 am

    so Bob if what Michael says makes any sense and you as a sophisticated consumer have already heard this monochromatic scale tinkling in your ear as you taste and tour through small californian producers of syrah then i have bad news for you. unless something is done or you move to the loire valley or nw spain you’re going to get bored. bored with wine Bob.

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