The Tasting Panel magazine

July 2010

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Page 34 of 96

FRANcE Marc Hugel above Riquewihr. PHOTO: NICK PASSMORE Etienne Hugel. PHOTO COURTESY OF HUGEL & FILS Beyond Control T HUGEL & FILS OPERATES OUTSIDE OFFICIAL NORMS— WITH STUNNING RESULTS by Nick Passmore Hugel’s Tradition Riesling comes from the grand cru Schoenenbourg vineyard but bears a simple propri- etary name. he Hugel family has been making wine in Alsace for almost 500 years, through good times and bad. Today, the company is run by two brothers, Marc and Etienne Hugel, following the death last year of their uncle, Johnny Hugel, known widely as Mr. Alsace for his tireless work spreading far and wide the gospel of not only Hugel but Alsace in general. Several interesting themes emerged from recent conversations with the two brothers, Etienne in New York and Marc in Riquewihr, the picture- postcard-perfect 16th-century town in Alsace that is the company’s base. There was their unswerv- ing commitment to preserving quality even at the expense of short-term profits: In 2006 they sold 40% of their production as bulk wine and declas- sified the rest. As Marc observes, “If you put out a bad wine, especially at a high price, it takes your reputation 20 years to recover.” Then there’s their proselytizing enthusiasm for the region’s wines, especially Riesling, about which Etienne is not shy, telling me, with a mischievous glint in his eyes and in what I suspect is a well-practiced line, that, “Riesling is the great- est white varietal in the world; it’s just that a few people in Burgundy need to be told.” But probably most important and most telling is their dismissive attitude to the appellation con- trôlée system of the region. Johnny Hugel was a member of the committee that advised on setting 34 / the tasting panel / july 2010 up the system in 1962, and lobbied for a strict, triple-tier classification as in Burgundy: grand cru, premier cru and village wines. He was, however, overruled by producers who sought short-term profit by including in the single grand cru designates many mediocre blocks. This diluted the standing of the best blocks—those that had made the vineyards’ reputations in the first place. Johnny realized that the enlarged designa- tion would discredit the whole classification in the long term and decided to opt out entirely, claim- ing, according to Marc, “We don’t want to give credit to the rotten system.” Consequently, all Hugel wines today are sold under their proprietary, non-appellation names— Tradition, Jubilee and Sélection de Grains Nobles—and despite having no AOC designation, they conform to far more exacting standards than those regulations require. Thus, while both their Tradition and Jubilee Riesling come not only from the grand cru Shoenenbourg, but from the very heart of that grand cru vineyard, they still bear only the simple proprietary name. A cheeky gesture. But when you have been building a reputation for making fine wines since 1639, I suppose you are entitled to take a somewhat dismissive attitude to a flawed system instituted only in 1962. Hugel & Fils wines are imported by Frederick Wildman and Sons, Ltd.

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