Death of Étienne Hugel, 57: Homage to a Mentor, and an Outstanding Ambassdor of Alsatian Wines

Apr 10, 2016

Dear Étienne,
I was stupefied and oh so sad to learn of your passing when I woke up, Saturday morning (April 9th).
My thoughts are with your wife and two children, your father and two brothers, as well as everyone in the extended Hugel Family, and, of course, with the thousands of friends and colleagues — of which I’ve been one for the last thirty years — you traveled the world over incessantly communicating your passion for Alsatian wines and their mind-blowing potential for pairings with so many international cuisines, especially Asian ones.
Your too brief passage in our lives was much more remarkable than you can even begin to understand.
You might not have known this, but you were a true mentor to me in regards to your deep understanding of Alsatian wines which you imparted so masterfully to the young sommelier I was back in the early 90s.
Your boundless passion and the depth of your knowledge of food and Alsatian wines pairing, which you communicated with such mastery had a lasting impact in my understanding of food and wine pairing at large, and it saddens me to write this now that you have left us for a better place…
Why did I not tell you before? I deeply regret it, now.
I am very privileged to have welcomed you many times to my Wine Club, in Montréal, between 1992 and 2002, with my wife Carole. You would visit us to talk about and introduce amateurs and professionals alike to the Hugel family of wines and each time was an occasion to create meals inspired by the aromas of your remarkable vintages. Each time, everyone was charmed by your warm personality, your incredible humour and your infectious passion for Hugel and Alsatian wines in general.
Alsace has undoubtedly lost its number one ambassador.
You often visited Montréal with wine-growers from other French regions, including your friend Gérard Jaboulet. I remember that when he died, in the late 90s, you generously took his son Nicolas under your wing and introduced him to all of us so he would better understand the Québec market which his dad had so formidably conquered.
You were a mentor for so many up and coming wine growers.
Then, in 2001, you invited myself and a few other renowned sommeliers, including your Alsatian friend Serge Dubs, to an Asian-themed meal at Au Bonheur du Palais, a restaurant in Bordeaux. What an epiphany, once again, when we all realized the ease with which Alsatian wines paired with oriental cuisine, which are famous for being so hard to pair with, and I’m not even talking about how amazingly fun that evening was, as usual when you sat down at the table with us!
I could go on for days reminiscing about unforgettable memories of your sharp wit, your infectious joyfulness, your generosity and your innate ability to welcome and accept everyone…
Now, all of that will remain in our memory because you are no longer here to move us forward, to make us smile and laugh until our sides hurt, but we will soldier on and carry your mission to the best of our abilities; don’t you worry.
The “Créateur d’harmonies” sommelier, vintner and wine merchant I’ve become over the years salutes you and will never thank you enough for sharing your passion with me, sharing that deep Alsatian truth that inhabited you and will forever inhabit me, now, as it does countless sommeliers and Alsatian wines lovers.
Again, my most sincere condolences to your family and loved ones.
May you have found peace.
Requiescat in pace, dear Étienne.