The international wine world had barely recovered from news of the untimely passing away of Paul Pontallier (59 years), Managing Director of Château Margaux, in Bordeaux, followed by Burgundy legend, Louis Latour of Maison Latour (83 years) when we heard about the sudden demise of another wine personality in France.
The news of Etienne Hugel’s passing away last Saturday, on the 9th of April came as a huge shock. Etienne, commercial director of his family winery, spent three weeks in India recently with his wife, Kaoru, leaving an indelible impression on the minds of Indian wine enthusiasts with his warmth and keenness to promote the wines of Famille Hugel wines (formerly Hugel & Fils) in India.
Etienne was born in 1958 and is the 12th consecutive generation to be running the family business. A member of the prestigious Primum Familiae Vini (First Families of Wine), Famille Hugel’s history as wine producers goes back to the 14th century. In 1639, Hans-Ulrich Hugel left his native Switzerland to escape the horrors of the Thirty Years’ War and decided to settle in Riquewihr, at the heart of the Alsace wine growing region.
Alsace became apart of France again in 1918 after almost 50 years of German rule. Its viticulture was in a sad state at the time and Emile Hugel (Etienne’s great-grandfather) persuaded his colleagues to adopt a policy of “quality first”. He fought hard for Alsace to become the first wine region in France to link Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée to the grape variety.
Following his degree in Commerce from the university in Strasbourg, in 1979 Etienne spent a year studying viticulture and oenology in Burgundy, before moving to Bordeaux to work in the vineyards of the Sauternes appellation. In 1981after one year of mandatory military service, Etienne spent three months in California working with wine experts at Cuvaison and Phelps, and familiarising himself with the region.
Etienne Hugel joined the family business in 1982 and was responsible for promoting Famille Hugel wines abroad, which are now exported to more than 100 countries around the world. The wines are today widely known and appreciated by consumers who remember meeting Etienne and sharing many a pleasurable moment with him.
Etienne leaves behind two children, Jean-Frederic (b. 1989, 13th generation working at Hugel), and Charlotte (b. 19910). And his second wife, Kaoru, who is Japanese and a former sommelier whom he married on October 8, 2013.
Etienne’s father, André Hugel, described his son as a visionary and a hard worker. “My son Etienne travelled the world relentlessly, showing unparalleled people skills and infectious enthusiasm. Throughout his life he was able to communicate his passion, his professionalism and his personal values to all those with whom he worked.”
The Hugel family is committed to Alsace wines regaining their place as the world’s finest white wines. The Hugel philosophy – and the secret of their wines – is based on the simple fact that “the wine is already in the grape”.
Wine lovers in India were just getting to know Famille Hugel and its wines. Sommelier India was in touch with Etienne for a profile in the magazine. And then, like a bolt from the sky, came the news that he was no more.
We hope to keep the legacy of Etienne Hugel, ambassador of Alsace wines (pictured left) alive in our own small way in India.