Death of Alsatian luminary André Hugel at 92

André Hugel, 11th generation of Alsace Family Hugel wines, died at the age of 92. According to a statement released by his family, he died on Monday August 15 from complications from Covid.

The family has been producing wine in Riquewihr since 1639, with around 75 acres of vines on the estate, half of which are grands crus, and other grapes purchased from local wine partners. Hugel was born on August 18, 1929 and studied viticulture in Beaune and Geisenheim before returning to Alsace to take up a position in the company. He and his brothers have been involved in several initiatives that have helped the brand and the region gain wider recognition. For example, it was under their leadership that Famille Hugel adopted their yellow and red labels after their brother Jean studied marketing and determined that the combination would attract customers.

Perhaps one of the brothers’ most enduring achievements was gaining recognition and setting standards for the Vendanges Tardives (late harvest) and Sélections du Grains Nobles (botrytised) wine styles in the 1980s. Previously, sweet wines often followed German labeling conventions and there was little quality control.

This philosophy of regional pride and high standards has inspired much of Hugel’s work. He was, for example, a strong advocate of the family’s most prestigious estate wines, Schoelhammer and Grossi Laüe, which means “best vineyards” in the Alsatian dialect, a widely spoken language that was banned under the German occupation.

The occupation was a topic of enormous interest to Hugel, who wrote Youth of Alsace and Wehrmacht: Let’s talk about it, Even if it bothers (Youth of Alsace and the Wehrmacht: let’s talk about it even if it bothers; J. Do Bentzinger, 2004) and co-author of a sequel, Between Sweet Facades (Between two fronts; Pierron, 2007). Both books tell the stories of young Alsatian men who were drafted to fight for the Germans in World War II. After the war, the region was returned to France, and it was also then that the wine traditions crushed during the occupation could be revived and refined.

Hugel’s passion for his local history led him to take on roles as Grand Master of Le Confrérie Saint-Etienne in 1985. One of the oldest wine corporations in France, Le Confrérie organizes educational activities and tastings, as well than guilds abroad. Its library has bottles of Alsace wine dating back to 1834, making it an important keeper of wine history; the post of Grand Master is a one-year appointment.

Since 1978, Hugel had been president of the Société d’Archéologie de Riquewihr, or Archaeological Society of Riquewihr, which restores historic buildings and archives documents and artifacts in the city. The company released a 1992 biography titled A Gourmet in Alsace in the 19th Century (A Gourmet in Alsace in the 19th century), of which Hugel is co-author.

Since 1979, he has also held the position of president of the Musée du Vignoble et des Vins d’Alsace, or Musée de la Vigne et du Vin d’Alsace, which preserves old tools used in the vineyard and cellar.

Hugel’s interest in municipal issues is not only historical: he was deputy mayor of Riquewihr from 1989 to 1995, then municipal councilor from 1995 to 2001.

According to the family statement, Hugel was active in the winery until the end, as the 12th and 13th generations of the family took over. The brand has a tradition in which the whole family had to agree on the quality of a vintage in order to release bottles. Hugel would therefore have actively participated in determining what ended up in the bottles exported to more than 100 countries. His loss will be deeply felt by his family, the region and by Alsatian wine drinkers around the world.

Funeral services will be reserved for the immediate family.

Posted on August 17, 2022

Elisha A. Tilghman