Chow Town

Why would you leave paradise?

Craig Camp
Craig Camp

As a wine lover I’ve often dreamed, however unrealistically, of one day living in the Napa Valley or Sonoma County and making my own wine, or at least earning a living in the wine industry.

Recently I came across a story that touched on that dream, one that I find pretty amazing. A friend of mine, Craig Camp, achieved that goal. Camp lived in Napa, immersed in the wine industry as the president of a top-flight winery for nearly a decade.

He abruptly surrendered his seemingly idyllic life in Napa for a rather remote existence in southern Oregon at a winery I’d never heard of. He called it “leaving forward.” I thought it sounded crazy and wanted to learn more.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. First, some perspective. I’ve known Camp, who’s been in the wine business more than three decades, for more than 20 years. I met him when he was running Direct Imports in Chicago in the mid-90s.

I like Camp and really respect his wine and food knowledge. He is among the legions of dedicated wine professionals seeking nothing more than to make and be associated with the best wine possible and share the fruits of the labors with the wine-drinking public. I will also readily admit I’ve often been jealous of his life.

Camp left Direct Imports, and when he returned from working for three years in the cellars of some of Italy’s most elite wine estates in Barolo and Barbaresco, refreshed and reinvigorated, he landed in Oregon and took over as president of Anne Amie Vineyards, previously known as Chateau Benoit (I love Oregon wines).

Later, Camp took on a similar position at Cornerstone Cellars. They make wine in the Napa Valley and Oregon’s Willamette Valley. Camp lived in Napa but traveled frequently to Oregon to check on the pinot operations there. That lasted nine years. Camp recently dropped a bombshell, announcing he was leaving Napa and Cornerstone and heading to Grants Pass, Oregon and Troon Vinyeards. What?!?! Enter the “leaving forward” explanation.

“I am not running away from the Napa Valley, which is a beautiful place, but I am very truly running towards something,” Camp said in a message. He longed to make wines from different grape varieties: tannat, vermentino, roussanne, marsanne, malbec, sangiovese, and tempranillo among others.

He said he disdained new oak, a Napa stalwart, and pointed out that the wines at Troon would be crushed by foot and fermented with indigenous yeasts.

Like working in Italy, Camp is getting back to the roots of wine-making and what got him excited about wine in the first place.

“I feel a wonderful lightness in my soul and excitement for the future. Once again, I feel about wine like I did three decades ago. What a wonderful gift,” Camp said in his Jerry Maguire-like exit letter.

I for one wish him the very best and can’t wait to visit him and taste the Troon offerings with him in the beautiful Applegate Valley in the not-too-distant future. Meanwhile, I’ll be back with my thoughts on some new releases from Troon Vineyards soon.

I haven’t tasted them yet, but if Camp’s involved I’m betting they’re pretty darned good.

Dave Eckert is a partner with Flavor Trade, a Kansas City-based gourmet food incubator and co-packer. Before that, Eckert was the producer and host of “Culinary Travels With Dave Eckert,” which aired on PBS and AWE for 12 seasons.