Etienne Hugel's boundless energy and tireless promotion of both his family estate and Alsace wines in general will see him fondly remembered by many around the world, writes Sue Style with help from Thierry Meyer.

Etienne Hugel‘s sudden death at the age of 57 was announced by the Hugel family winery in Riquewihr, Alsace, on Sunday 10 April.

Etienne, who succeeded his uncle Jean – known throughout the Anglo-Saxon world as Johnny Hugel – in the role of roving ambassador for Hugel wines, was famous for his boundless energy, his broad smile, his communications skills – he was a master of social media – and his passion for Riesling.

At tastings and wine events at home and abroad, he took evident delight in applying (non-permanent) tattoos to the forearms of fellow Riesling-lovers; tattoos which spelled out in bold black ink the name of his favoured grape variety.

As Famille Hugel commercial director, Etienne travelled the world in a tireless quest to spread the news of Hugel wines, from the best-selling Gentil to the top-level, newly baptised Grossi Laüe range of wines.

Latterly, accompanied by his Japanese-born sommelier wife Kaoru, he travelled frequently to Asia, which has become an increasingly important market for Hugel.

Back home in Riquewihr, he would receive visitors at the famous, primrose-yellow, half-timbered house on a corner of the cobbled main street in the centre of town, where they would be assured of a warm welcome and a tasting to remember.

At the slightest encouragement, he would bound off up into the vineyards that rise steeply above the village with visitors in tow, a bottle tucked under one arm, corkscrew and glasses in the other, in order to taste the wine directly in its terroir.

In recent times, Etienne watched with delight and pride as members of the younger generation (the thirteenth) of the Hugel family – his son Jean Frédéric and daughter Charlotte, and his two nephews Marc André and Christian – joined the family firm. With generosity of spirit, he encouraged each of them to find their place and bring their own contribution, particular skills and fresh ideas to the table.

His untimely disappearance is a grievous loss to his family, as well as to countless colleagues and a multitude of wine-loving friends and followers around the world.

Thierry Meyer, regional chair for Alsace at the Decanter World Wine Awards, said, ‘Etienne liked to live at 100 miles an hour – but that was no reason for him to leave us so quickly and so unexpectedly.’

‘To succeed Jean Hugel, who spoke three languages – French, German and English – with incredible verve, was not easy,’ said Bernard Burtschy, wine critic and co-chair for Languedoc-Rousillon at DWWA.

‘Worldwide traveller and Asia lover, Etienne (Jean’s nephew) got there by passion and enthusiasm. He had no equal as ambassador of both Riesling and the family business. Alsace has lost its brightest ambassador, the world of wine an aesthete with huge knowledge.’

Extra reporting by Yohan Castaing.


  • MikeF4

    I met him recently in Toronto. He was a super guy. His energy was infectious.

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  • Eilis Cryan

    Such sad news of a premature death. We spent a really nice time with him in Riquewihr back in 2001, just days before September 11. All of the very warm and kind words written here echo in my ears. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam dilis.

  • specialed47

    I met his dad many years ago and will never forget him. What a fun person! Sounds his son was cut from the same cloth. We need more people like him in this growing corporate world of wine which not too long ago was only meant for the passionate and now is run by the dispassionate.

  • Simon D

    I only met Etienne once, briefly, at the LIWF a few years ago. No doubt on account of my wife being Indonesian, he took us to one side, showed us iPad photos of his bike trip through Bali, and generally treated us like old friends. He came across as totally genuine, without malice or edge, and gloriously devoid of an edit switch or mute button. Despite continuing to pour samples and being surrounded by half a dozen other people, he had that rare gift of making you feel like the only person in the room. I’m sure there are many with similar stories – he was that kind of guy.

    We often talked about visiting him in Alsace, and it is to my eternal regret that we never made the time for it. This news has made me really rather sad, the tragic loss of an unforgettable character.

  • M. Buss

    Always a smile, a wonderful ambassador for his country, region, and wonderful wines

  • Laura Iverson

    Devastated to hear this news. Etienne’s charm and knowledge as an ambassador for his region and his family’s formidable winemaking legacy will not soon be forgotten. Sending condolences and affection to his family from the US.