Etienne Hugel, the dynamic commercial director for Famille Hugel and a charismatic ambassador for Alsatian wine, died in the early hours of April 9, according to members of his family. He was 57.
Along with his two brothers, Jean-Philippe and Marc, Etienne steered his family’s wine firm for nearly 20 years. He oversaw the business side of the company, but also was its public face, crisscrossing the globe to educate consumers, sommeliers and retailers on his wines and Alsatian wines as a whole. Tireless, funny and personable, with a love for wine, he charmed almost everyone he met.
"Etienne Hugel was an indefatigable traveler, ardent promoter of Alsace wine and Alsace culture," fellow Alsatian vintner Olivier Humbrecht told Wine Spectator. "He did so much to protect the Hugel patrimony, land and wine style, as well as safeguarding Riquewihr landmarks."
"A visionary and hard worker, my son Etienne traveled the world with enthusiasm and a sense of friendship without equal," said his father, André Hugel, in a statement. "Throughout his life he has transmitted his passion, professionalism and human values to all the people with whom he worked."
Hugel was born in 1958 in Riquewihr, the small Alsatian town where the Hugels have made wine since 1639. Growing up, he watched his father and his uncles Jean and Georges—Hugel’s 11th generation—manage the winery, rebuilding a business devastated by World War II.
After graduating from university with a degree in commerce, Etienne spent a year studying viticulture and enology in Burgundy. After a year in the military, he worked at wineries in Bordeaux and California. He returned home to join the company—then known as Hugel & Fils—in 1982. He carved out a role as head of sales and marketing, becoming commercial director when he and his brothers took charge.
While Etienne didn’t have to replant war-torn vineyards, he faced plenty of challenges, as Alsace worked to create a wine identity in new markets. Always energetic and passionate, Etienne was a tireless advocate for both Hugel & Fils and the region.
He traveled much of the year across Europe, the United States and Asia as an evangelist for the family’s wines, which are now available in more than 100 markets around the world. He taught sommeliers about Alsatian wine’s versatility with not just traditional French fare, but modern Asian cuisine. Such moves helped the company make inroads in Asia and introduced Hugel’s wines to a new generation of American drinkers.
In 2015, Hugel oversaw the reinvention of Hugel & Fils as Famille Hugel, reflecting the three generations of the family who work for the company today. The name change was accompanied by a major overhaul of the company’s range, label design and more—the most substantial revamp since the 1920s.
Hugel is survived by his wife Kaoru, his son Jean-Frédéric, now part of the 13th generation to work at Hugel, and his daughter Charlotte, currently working for Hugel's U.K. importer.
With reporting by Alison Napjus.