This is no fun, especially so soon after the loss of Paul Pontallier of Château Margaux.
The illustrious Hugel family of Alsace report the sudden death of Etienne Hugel yesterday. Like Paul, Etienne had not even reached 60. He was just 57 and had the energy and enthusiasm, not to say wiry good looks, of someone in their early twenties. He successfully managed to fill the shoes of his uncle Johnny Hugel as the public face of Hugel, and was similarly beloved all over the world. Johnny's were not easy shoes to fill, but Etienne quite rightly did it in his own inimitable 21st-century way, harnessing social media and co-operative marketing campaigns with unusual ease. See, for example, his tributes to his uncle Johnny when he died in 2009 and Riesling revolution in China.
As Johnny’s brother André, born 1929, quite rightly observed about his late 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.’
Hugel already had a fine winemaker in Etienne's father André, and now his own son Jean-Frédéric. So it was not oenology but commerce that Etienne studied in Strasbourg before joining the family business in 1982. An enthusiastic traveller, he did everything with great vision and had extraordinary charm and stamina.
The Hugel family came to London last year to launch their new Schoelhammer Riesling, a sign of evolution in this renowned house that has been operating in the picture-postcard village of Riquewihr since 1639. Both Richard and I wrote at length in Hugel Riesling old and new about the three generations of Hugels. I see I described Etienne as ‘irrepressible’. I cannot express strongly enough how sad I am that he has now been repressed forever.
Under the guidance of Etienne and others of his generation Jean-Philippe and Marc, the name of the firm was changed from Hugel & Fils to Famille Hugel and this exciting new Schoelhammer Riesling 2007, launched last year, was the first to carry an individual vineyard name.
Etienne leaves behind his Japanese second wife Kaoru (whom he met in the vineyards of Alsace) and his two children Jean-Frédéric, and Charlotte, who has been working for Hugel’s UK wine importer Fells & Co.
Etienne and Fells principal Paul Symington of the port family had been planning a wine event in London this year featuring their respective daughters called Charlotte (who have been working together at Fells), poignantly designed to illustrate continuity in the wine business.
Both Symington and Hugel were members of Primum Familiae Vini (a group of 11 'first families of wine') of which Etienne was arguably the prime mover and shaker. Here’s the message that Paul sent to his fellow members this morning:
Yesterday was a very sad day. We lost a very good friend.
Etienne’s commitment to the PFV was unparalleled. He adopted the PFV family philosophy like no other and for many years it was Etienne, virtually alone, who organised all our events. He put his heart and soul into the PFV and he to a great extent helped shape the PFV into the extraordinary and unique organisation of genuine and close family friends that it is today. The PFV has lost one of its greatest members.
I know that we are all deeply shocked and deeply saddened by this news. I would like just to share with you all the sadness of our family.
Less than a month ago Etienne sent me this email out of the blue while I was travelling in Australia because he heard I’d been in Tokyo. He of course was often in Japan because of Kaoru:
Just came back from where you are... Missed [Kenichi] Ohashi san MW but spent plenty of time with [leading Japanese wine writer] Yamamoto san for in-depth tasting which he reported, including stellar score for Schoelhammer 2007, your sushi dinner wine which must have impressed him...
He may have told you that I also tattoed him? [the famous Riesling tattoo]
I just wanted to tell you how pleased the new Famille Hugel was to hear you chose our Riesling Jubilee 2009 for your [Room to Read] tasting in Japan. It is the last vintage with this label and the vintage Johnny passed away. Highly symbolic as it was also the first vintage the youngsters made their debut...
After Japan my son Jean Frédéric & I went to the US and tasted with Stuart Pigott. Just thought you would enjoy the read [see Stuart's blog].
You must come and see us. So much has changed here.
Warmest regards, also to Nick. Home soon?
Home now, Etienne. With a heavy heart.