'Johnny' Hugel dies

  • Wednesday 10 June 2009

Legendary Alsace producer Jean Hugel died yesterday at the age of 84.

Jean Hugel

For over 60 years Jean Frederic Hugel was one of his native region's greatest champions.

After the Second World War Hugel studied at both Montpellier and Bordeaux before returning home.

He ran the family wine business – founded around 1639 – with his two brothers, Georges and André, from 1948 until 1997, when his nephews Jean Philippe, Marc and Etienne took over daily management of the company.

Hugel wrote what eventually became legislation regulating the production of Alsace wines. These were finally recognized officially in 1984 and have become some of the strictest of all French wine appellation laws.

Affectionately known throughout the wine community as 'Johnny', he was outspoken, and firm in his beliefs. ‘It is sad to see French growers are following this trend,’ he once said of his fellow winemakers' use of oak and its by-products. ‘They are timber merchants who forget to be winegrowers.’

But he was no ascetic – one of his best-known pronouncements was, ‘People who like wine are nicer people than those who do not like wine.’

Paul Symington of Symington Family Estates said, ‘In the wine trade around the world, very few reach the level of affection and respect that Johnny earned from all over his lifetime.’

Alsace expert Tom Stevenson said, ‘Johnny Hugel was the single most important person in the development of Alsace wine industry throughout the 20th century.’

Hugel is survived by his wife Simone, who was alongside him at his Riquewihr home, their daughters Dominique and Judith, and four grandchildren: Sylvie, Jean, Etienne, and Michel.

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