I think it is fair to say that Cameron Hughes is not a “typical” winemaker. He doesn’t own any vineyards (that I know of), nor does he usually buy fruit and oversee the production of wine from start to finish.
No, Cameron Hughes is what the French call a négociant which means he buys already made wine, often referred to as bulk wine, often reblending it, and then bottles it under his own label. Hughes is then able to sell the wine at a fraction of the price that the winery sells the exact same wine.
Many wineries, it turns out, produce more wine than they can sell and instead of lowering prices and “cheapening” their brand, sell off the excess wine in bulk to négociants like Cameron Hughes. There is a catch, however. Hughes, and other négociants, are usually bound by confidentiality agreements–they are not allowed to reveal the actual producer of the wine.
Thus, there is a bit of trust required on the part of the consumer, but Cameron Hughes has a rather long track record of providing high-quality wines at very reasonable prices. A few weeks ago I was sent a few bottles of his latest venture, de Négoce, which we tasted together on Zoom. The de Négoce wines are offered as futures (but with a fairly quick turn-around, usually a few weeks) and only by the case. Based on the wines tasted below, I quickly signed up to be on the de Négoce email list and hope to buy a case or two soon (but I’ve learned I need to act quickly as the wines sell out quite quickly).
2019 de Négoce Sauvignon Blanc OG N.16, Sonoma County, CA: Retail $10. Cameron Hughes has an interesting business model, to say the least. For the most part, he buys wine in bulk from reputable producers, bottles it as his own, and sells it as futures at a considerable discount (although never revealing the origins of the wine). He claimed that this Napa Sauvignon Blanc retails in the $30 range, but he sold it for $10. Light in the glass with a slight straw tint, aromas of pineapple, guava, and, yes, cat pee. Quite tropical. The palate is a delight: racy, tart, fruity, really delicious. I am usually not a fan of Sauvignon Blanc, but this is delicious. Excellent. 90-92 Points.
2018 de Négoce Chardonnay OG N.12, Oak Knoll District, Napa Valley, CA: Retail $12. Perhaps more than any other variety, Chardonnay evokes some strong opinions, with many disdaining the traditional style that is characterized by a heavy dose of aging in oak barrels. And this is certainly on the traditional side. It’s oaky. Cameron claims that this is a $40 Chard and I have no reason to doubt him, but it is oaky. There is also plenty of fruit and tartness and it is quite nice, but it is decidedly laden with wood. It is a style that I quite enjoy from time to time, in fact. Very Good to Excellent. 88-90 Points.
2018 de Négoce Pinot Noir OG N.09, Carmel Valley, CA: Retail $12. Another Cameron Hughes wine, another winner. From my experience, this is a fantastic representation of the appellation: fruity, tart, fun. While I believe that Cameron said this was a $40 Pinot (and I have no reason to doubt him), it is on the fruity, irreverent side of Pinot. No, it’s not a Gevrey-Chambertain, but it’s also not 200 bucks. Bravo Cameron, bravo. Very Good. 87-89 Points.
2018 de Négoce Cabernet Sauvignon OG N.32, Dry Creek Valley, CA: Retail $12. Cameron Hughes claimed that this was a $40-50 wine from perhaps my favorite Sonoma County appellation. Who am I to disagree? Dark in the glass with a fruity compote of blackberry, cassis and black pepper in the glass. The palate is fruity and inviting with plenty of acid to balance out the fruit, that black pepper, and a touch of mild tobacco. Yum. The tannins are there, but soft, suggesting a short-term cellaring here (3-5 years, max). Another winner from the wine-whisperer. Excellent. 90-92 Points.
2018 de Négoce Cabernet Sauvignon OG N.40, Diamond Mountain District, Napa Valley, CA: Retail $18. The second Cab in the online tasting led by Cameron Hughes, which he claimed to be in the $150 neighborhood. OK. Giddy-up. Dark in the glass with plenty of fruit (blackberry, cassis), but certainly more reserved than most Diamond Mountain Cabs. The palate is initially quite fruity, but that fruit dissipates rather quickly into a surprisingly austere wine. But it is clear there is a fantastic wine here underneath. With some time and patience, I feel this will awaken into a bit of a titan. Whoa. Excellent to Outstanding. 92-94 Points.
2017 de Négoce Cabernet Sauvignon OG N.02, Napa Valley, CA: Retail $14. Cameron Hughes suggested that this is a $100 Cab and we tried it last, even after the Diamond Mountain Cab, which seemed like the right call. Dark, even über-dark in the glass, with plum, blackberry, Christmas spice, and verve on the nose. The palate is equally fantastic: fruity, big, bombastic, spicy, Yowza. This is considerably fuller than the Diamond Mountain Cab (at least at this point) with chewy tannins and plenty of depth. Whoa. Give this at least a handful of years. Excellent to Outstanding. 92-94 Points.