Eti­enne Hugel

1958-2016

Decanter - - OBITUARY -

ETi­ENNE HugEl‘s suD­DEN death, aged 57, was an­nounced in a short state­ment by the Hugel fam­ily win­ery in Riquewihr, Al­sace on 10 April; he had died the pre­vi­ous day.

Hugel, who suc­ceeded his un­cle Jean – known widely as Johnny – in the role of rov­ing am­bas­sador for Hugel wines, was fa­mous for his bound­less en­ergy, his broad smile, his com­mu­ni­ca­tion skills (he was a mas­ter of so­cial me­dia), and par­tic­u­larly his pas­sion for Ries­ling. At tast­ings and wine events at home and abroad, he took ev­i­dent delight in ap­ply­ing (non-per­ma­nent) tattoos to the fore­arms of fel­low Ries­ling lovers; tattoos spell­ing out in bold, black ink the name of his favoured va­ri­ety.

He joined the fam­ily busi­ness in 1982, in charge of pro­mot­ing ex­ports. His most re­cent role was as com­mer­cial director, and un­der his lead­er­ship the win­ery now ex­ports to more than 100 coun­tries. Hugel trav­elled the world in a tire­less quest to spread the mes­sage of Hugel wines, from the best-sell­ing gen­til to the new, top-level grossi laüe line.

lat­terly, ac­com­pa­nied by his Ja­panese-born som­me­lier wife Kaoru, Hugel also went fre­quently to Asia, which has be­come an in­creas­ingly im­por­tant mar­ket for the fam­ily busi­ness and Al­sace wines in gen­eral.

Back home in Riquewihr, he over­saw op­er­a­tions with his broth­ers, Jean-Philippe and Marc. He would re­ceive vis­i­tors at the fa­mous, yel­low, half-tim­bered house on a cor­ner of the cob­bled main street, where they would be as­sured of a warm wel­come and a tast­ing to re­mem­ber. At the slight­est en­cour­age­ment, Hugel would bound up into the vine­yards that rise steeply above the vil­lage with vis­i­tors in tow, a bot­tle tucked un­der one arm, corkscrew and glasses in the other, to taste the wine di­rectly in its ter­roir.

in re­cent years, Hugel watched with delight and pride as mem­bers of the younger gen­er­a­tion (the 13th) of the Hugel fam­ily – his son Jean Frédéric and daugh­ter Char­lotte, and his two neph­ews Marc An­dré and Chris­tian – joined the fam­ily firm. With gen­eros­ity of spirit, he en­cour­aged each of them to find their place and bring their own con­tri­bu­tion, par­tic­u­lar skills and fresh ideas to the ta­ble.

His un­timely death is a griev­ous loss to his fam­ily, as well as to count­less col­leagues and a mul­ti­tude of winelov­ing friends and fol­low­ers around the world.

‘A vi­sion­ary and a hard worker, my son Eti­enne trav­elled the world re­lent­lessly, show­ing un­par­al­leled peo­ple skills and in­fec­tious en­thu­si­asm,’ said An­dré Hugel. ‘Through­out his life he was able to com­mu­ni­cate his pas­sion, his pro­fes­sion­al­ism and his per­sonal val­ues to all those with whom he worked.’

Famille Hugel is a mem­ber of the Pri­mum Fa­mil­iae Vini, (PFV) which in­cludes a se­lect num­ber of the world’s best fam­ily-owned winer­ies. On hear­ing of Hugel’s death, Paul syming­ton of syming­ton Fam­ily Es­tates wrote to fel­low mem­bers: ‘Yes­ter­day was a very sad day. We lost a very good friend. Eti­enne’s com­mit­ment… was un­par­al­leled. The PFV has lost one of its great­est mem­bers.’

in a trib­ute on her web­site, Jan­cis Robin­son MW de­scribed look­ing through her notes about Hugel’s trip to london last year to launch the fam­ily’s schoel­ham­mer Ries­ling. ‘i see i de­scribed Eti­enne as “ir­re­press­ible”. i can­not ex­press strongly enough how sad i am that he has now been re­pressed for­ever.’

Thierry Meyer, Re­gional Chair for Al­sace at the De­can­ter World Wine Awards, said: ‘Eti­enne liked to live at 100 miles an hour – but that was no rea­son for him to leave us so quickly and so un­ex­pect­edly.’

‘To suc­ceed [his un­cle] Jean Hugel, who spoke three lan­guages – French, ger­man and English – with in­cred­i­ble verve, was not easy,’ said Bernard Burtschy, wine writer and DWWA co-Chair for langue­doc-Rous­sil­lon. ‘World­wide trav­eller and Asia lover, Eti­enne got there by pas­sion and en­thu­si­asm. Al­sace has lost its bright­est am­bas­sador, the world of wine an aes­thete with huge knowl­edge.’

Read­ers of De­can­ter.com also shared their mem­o­ries. simon D re­called meet­ing Hugel at the london Wine Trade Fair. ‘He showed us iPad photos of his bike trip through Bali and gen­er­ally treated us like old friends. He came across as to­tally gen­uine, with­out mal­ice or edge, and glo­ri­ously de­void of an edit switch or mute but­ton. De­spite con­tin­u­ing to pour sam­ples and be­ing sur­rounded by half a dozen other peo­ple, he had that rare gift of mak­ing you feel like the only per­son in the room. i’m sure there are many with sim­i­lar sto­ries – he was that kind of guy.’

‘Al­sace has lost its bright­est am­bas­sador, the world of wine an aes­thete with huge knowl­edge’

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