Jessica Kogan and her husband, Cameron Hughes, started the wine company in his name back in 2001.
There was a plethora of grapes available back then thanks to some great harvests. But the high-end wine producers couldn't turn all those grapes into wine, because the over-supply would force them to charge a lower price.
So they sold those extra grapes to people like Hogan and Hughes, a.k.a. negociants in the wine world, who then made wine and bottled it themselves.
The great part for the consumer is that they sold their wines for much less - like under $30 - compared to the almost $100 that the high-end wine vineyards would have charged.
So Cameron Hughes Wines was born. "We were literally selling bottles out of the trunk of our car in the beginning," she said.
- Listen to Kogan tell the whole story in the video above. Plus -- she names the next hot wine region!
But they got a huge break in 2004 when Costco (COST) agreed to stock their wines and the company took off.
It was at that time that Kogan, as chief marketing officer, embraced social media before anyone else in the wine industry. She created a social community and created their direct-to-consumer model. She took their sales all online, and even made them available on Groupon.
But social media doesn't pay the bills when you're a negociant and there aren't extra grapes available for purchase. In that case, the model quickly falls apart. Having extra debt on the balance sheet doesn't help, either.
So in 2015, after a bad harvest and rough year, the bank put the company in receivership.
And it wasn't until early this year that they found someone to bail them out. Thanks to their solid social following and dedicated online customer list, Vintage Wine Estates (VWE) decided to purchase the company in a blind auction, for $5.5 million.
Cameron Hughes still is run as a stand-alone and sells 60,000 cases a year, all online.
But thanks to low interest rates and the increasing consumption of wine, M&A in the wine world is almost the norm these days. For example:
- Joe Wagner, son of Caymus's Chuck Wagner, basically kicked off the spending spree when he sold his Pinot Noir, Meiomi, to Constellation Brands Inc. (STZ) for a whopping $315 million back in 2015.
- Australian-based Treasury Wine Estates acquired Diageo PLC's (DEO) wine business for 600 million
- In 2016, Constellation Brands Inc. purchased The Prisoner Wine Company for approximately $285 million.
- Gallo, the world's largest family-owned wine company, has been on a shopping spree buying up vineyard in the Napa Valley and along California's central coast.
- And back in April, the Napa Valley stalwart Silver Oak recently bought uber high-end cult winery Ovid Napa Valley for $50 million
There has been consolidation amongst the country's biggest distributors too. Southern Wine & Spirits and Glazer's merged into Southern Glazer's Wine & Spirits. With combined revenues of almost $17 billion, it is now the biggest distributor in the country.
All this is making it harder and harder for the little guy to survive.
And now with Amazon (AMZN) pulling out of the wine world, it hurts the smaller vineyards even more.
Plus, with Cameron Hughes headquarters in Santa Rosa, Calif., she gave us a firsthand account of the state of the California fires. (Check out the California Fire Department's website for ways to help.)
While pouring a glass of wine always seems so romantic, the business of wine can be so harsh.
Kogan knows firsthand how hard it can be. But when the wine tastes so good it all becomes worth it.
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