André Hugel, a former leader at Famille Hugel winery in France’s Alsace region, passed away Aug. 15 from complications due to COVID. He was 92.
Part of the 11th generation of the Hugel family, a name synonymous with Alsace wine, André will be remembered as a proud champion of his region's culture and defender of its wine traditions.
"André Hugel was to Alsace what Charles de Gaulle was to France: a steadfast leader, a loyal defender of his region, a teacher to many," said Martin Sinkoff, a wine consultant who worked closely with Hugel for decades. "He was a man of deep knowledge, a historian, in fact. The stellar success of his family and their wines and the success of Alsace in the world are his true memorial."
Born in 1929, Hugel trained in Burgundy and Germany before joining his two brothers—Jean and Georges—in running the family wine estate, which was founded in Riquewihr in 1639. They rebuilt the business, which had been devastated by World War II, and grew the Hugel name into a leading international brand available in 100 countries, elevating the reputation of Alsatian wines.
Although he officially retired from running the winery a few decades ago, Hugel was instrumental in the more recent introduction of two highly symbolic cuvées that reclaimed the estate's connection to Alsace's heritage: Grossi Laüe, which means the finest vineyards in Alsatian dialect, the equivalent of Burgundy's grand cru; and Schoelhammer, which revived the region's long-abandoned tradition of bottling wines from single vineyards.
"André Hugel was a gentleman; he was very humble and passionate about Alsace and its history," Jean Trimbach, the 12th generation of another leading Alsace wine family, told Wine Spectator. "He was my godfather and impressed me a lot when I was a young boy. Until very recently he would visit our parents every Saturday and had so many stories to tell."
In addition to his involvement in winegrowing, local politics and cultural institutions, he was also deeply interested in history, studying how some Alsatians were conscripted against their will into the German army in World War II. His research in this field led to several publications.
"André had such deep knowledge of the winemaking world before 1970 and especially during and between the two World Wars," said Véronique Muré of Domaine Muré. "My father René remembers that André gave him some documents about the life of vinegrowers during old times. He had a big knowledge of techniques and practices in viticulture and winemaking, not only actual but also old ones. Last time my father René saw André Hugel, it was at the estate, when André was looking at the old press from the XIII century we have in front of the cellar."
He passed this passion for Alsace and its rich history along to the next generation, including his son, Etienne Hugel, who steered the business for decades and was an energetic ambassador for Alsatian wine across the globe until his death in 2016 at age 57.
"André was the nicest and gentlest of men, and was certainly the grandfatherly figure at Hugel," Derek Blackburn, senior vice president at Frederick Wildman & Sons, the longtime partner and importer of Famille Hugel, told Wine Spectator. "Our deepest condolences to Famille Hugel on the passing of André."
The Famille Hugel estate is now run by Marc, Marc-André and Jean-Frédéric, representing the family’s 12th and 13th generations.
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