What Happened To Cameron?

Cameron Hughes.  It wasn't too long ago that his wine company was the darling of the press, and these pages were no exception.  As the blockbuster 2007 vintage in Napa Valley was coming online, the recession was really taking hold.  This convergence - and a hell of a good story - helped catapult Cameron's stardom.  And it didn't hurt one bit that back in 2010 and 2011, you could score a $16 Chalk Hill Cabernet, a $20 Stags Leap Cabernet, or an amazing Russian River valley Pinot Noir for $15.  Those were the days when CH Wine created a new market and enjoyed sole occupation thereof.  And it was as great for consumers as it was for the company.

No mas.

The latest indication Cameron Hughes' growing pains arrived in inboxes yesterday - the pimping a new Napa Cabernet:
"This is a single vineyard wine from St. Helena. The NDA is a mile long, and we're sworn to secrecy. That said, we're happy to go along with the program because they regularly produce wines from $75/bottle to well over $100."
The air of exclusivity and hushed, super-precious tones are de rigueur for CH.  But here's what's changed the most:

Oh yeah, and it's only $29?  Huh?  Used to be these wines occupied the <$20 sweet spot.  WTF?  A quick glance at their online store reveals that all of their lot series Cabernets are all $25 an up.

But hold on a second, isn't this new release a relative bargain?  Doesn't it normally sell for $75-100?  No.  You've got to read the fine print.  Besides, $75 is about average for Napa Cabernets anymore - and not for anything particularly special.  Even if it was a re-labeled $75 wine, a 60% discount almost brings the QPR (Quality-to-Price Ratio) into the realm of reasonable.  Almost.

This is hardly an isolated example, either.  In the last year or so, Cameron's forays into European wines have run the gamut - from Cotes du Rhones on the low end (which the local super market can't seem to move no matter how low they price it) to spendy Burgundies, Brunellos ($39), Barolos ($29) and others.  How successful has this been?  Don't know, but the compelling product he brought to market a few years ago is nowhere to be found today.

So, has this negociant gotten too big for its britches?  Perhaps.  Probably, even.  But one thing's for certain - as his prices have not-so-subtly crept up, Cameron Hughes has positioned himself to compete in an increasingly difficult price market.  And in the meantime, other negociant models such as Mark West, Castle Rock, and others are upping their game while keeping prices low.  So, am I still buying Cameron Hughes wines?  Not really.