A wine man with a good plan

Every so often I am granted an interview with a winery owner and personality that I really look forward to unwrapping. Such was the opportunity to spend some time with Cameron Hughes of Cameron Hughes Wine at the San Diego Press Club holiday party in Point Loma.
“We buy grapes on the spot market and got the company going in 2007,” he began. “We really began to make a lot of wine with various partnerships like Costco and that enabled us to grow quickly and flexibly, by focusing on vineyard districts with an established  reputation that were having quality harvests. The identities of the vineyards selected are a closely guarded secret to protect their price points.”
Cameron Hughes bottles and sells the wine at significant discounts. He rightly chose Napa Valley Cabernet to establish a name and early success. “The focus is on fantastic pricing and staying true to the business model. We move quickly to buy at the right wholesale price to fuel growth,” he declared. “We don’t own vineyards. We store, process and bottle at large warehouses, or partner up with a leading winery for their facilities. We look at appellations that have excess capacity and that can take off in sales.” 
Cameron Hughes’ pricing sweet spot is the $10 to $25 range. This is a good spot to be in. The low end with a similar model is owned by Fred Franzia and his Bronco Wines of Modesto, founder of boxed wines and the famous Charles (Two Buck Chuck) Shaw with wines at Trader Joes for $2. A small amount of grapes in this brand come from Napa Valley but most are from the San Joaquin Valley, never a quality choice. (Hughes is also from Modesto, but that’s where the similarity ends)
Recently Hughes has applied his formula for success to other districts in California like the Santa Ynez Valley, Sonoma, and now Oregon and Chile. “We want to bridge the gap between the producer and retail seller,” he revealed. “We provide cash flow to the venture for a percentage and take the wine up the ladder of success. Our goal is always to provide the best high-end wines for a very reasonable price point. I am watching the wine grape market every day.” 
A prime example of Cameron Hughes quality would be the Lot 200, 2008 Napa Valley Rutherford/Oakville/Stags Leap Cabernet. Hughes calls it “the best deal ever.”  Check it out at Costco or the website at www.www.chwine.com.
Pinot Noir wineries pop the corks in L.A. SUBHEAD
Pinot Days comes to Southern California with a Grand Festival on Jan. 15 at Barker Hangar in Santa Monica from 2 to 6 p.m.
January 14, a Table Hop dinner and a Meet the Winemakers dinner, both in Los Angeles, will complete the extended weekend of Pinot Noir entertainment, food and world-class wines.
 Pinot Noir is a Burgundy-inspired wine of French birth. It thrives in the coastal elevations of California and Oregon. Most are hand-crafted with great care. I am a huge lover of great Pinot. Two California brands showed up in my Top 10 Tastes for 2010 and Oregon Pinots have made the list in the past.
Jim Bernau purchased what is now Willamette Valley Vineyards in the fertile Willamette Valley of Oregon in 1983. Now the vineyard has expanded to 250 acres of rich, red soil and sits on slopes with about 2 tons per acre picked for highest quality. Their 2008 new release Pinot Noir will be a spotlight wine at the Pinot Days Grand Festival. The producers have kept the price at a very reasonable $60 per person base, plus a complimentary Burgundy-style glass. For tickets and other options, go to www.pinotdays.com, or call 415-246-2967 for further information.
Wine Bytes SUBHEAD
— Bacchus Wine Market downtown San Diego presents Wines from Spain from 4 to 8:30 p.m. Jan. 14. Seven wines from regions like Rioja, Jumilla, Rueda and more.  The cost is $15 per person. Call (619) 236-0005 for details.
— Scott’s Restaurant in Orange County hosts the eighth annual Wine Stars of Santa Barbara produced by Learn About Wine from 7 to 9:30 p.m. Jan. 18. Forty-plus wineries will be pouring. Advance tickets are $89. Call (310) 451-7600 for details. 
— Meritage Wine Market hosts a Burgundy tasting on from 6 to 8 p.m. Jan. 21. Cost is $20. Call (760) 479-2500 for details.
— Callaway Vineyard & Winery in Temecula kicks off a series of winemaker seminars from 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Jan. 22. Winemaker Craig Larson will begin with A Taste of Winter. A bottle of wine is included. Cost is $88.50 per seminar, with a discount for club members. Call (951) 676-4001 for details.
— Vigilucci’s Ristorante in La Jolla has a North to South Wine at 6 p.m. Jan. 22. The cost is $65 each for a three-course dinner paired with regional Italian wines. For an RSVP and details, call (858) 454-9664.

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