By Eric Brotman
What’s in a name? Jeffrey Dye, owner of Happy Camper Wines, hopes his screw-top bottles with labels showing a sleek, silver trailer in the great outdoors will help RVers make happy new memories and bring back old ones.
“Some of my fondest memories as a child are of going up to the Sierra Nevada mountains in an RV from our family home in Fresno,” he said. In 2006, Dye hitched those memories to his 30 years of experience in the wine industry. He started producing chardonnay, cabernet sauvignon and merlot wines under a brand name that celebrates the RV lifestyle.
Happy Camper isn’t a name most people would expect to see on a wine from Napa or Bordeaux, especially with its suggested retail price of $9.99 ($7.99 if ordered on the Happy Camper website). But wine snobs who assume the bottles are filled with a bland novelty at best — or an offensive rotgut at worst — would be dead wrong. When judged in blind tastings with other wines in the same price range, Happy Camper has brought home the gold more than once. The Los Angeles International Wine & Spirits Competition awarded Happy Camper’s 2010 Merlot the top prize for wines costing less than $10. The same vintage has been highly rated by Wine Enthusiast Magazine. Dye recommends it with grilled pork tenderloin, smoked salmon, pastas and pizzas. “The night is filled with stars,” he writes. “Our Merlot is one of them!”
Dye has no sales reps, preferring to operate as a one-man show. Sometimes he spreads the word about Happy Camper by going on the road. He’s conducted tastings for KOA and has given free samples to owners of various campgrounds and RV parks. He receives compliments for his wines “all the time.” RVers ask him for posters and tell him his wines are a hit, especially when served to other RVers. “One couple that contacted me was planning a cross-country honeymoon in their RV,” he said. “They wanted to serve Happy Camper wines at their wedding.”
Happy Camper wines can be ordered online at the company website, where there is also a state-by-state list of wholesalers and retailers.