Friday, 1 April 2016

Facelift of Hugel estate - from sons to family

Energetic Etienne Hugel, the face of the Alsatian estate Hugel, visits Asia regularly and often. His first market visit this year was on a high note and he was excited to share the latest changes at the estate.

First of all was the change of name, from ‘Hugel & Fils’ to ‘Famille Hugel’, to officially recognise the other gender in the family. This was followed by the change of the label. While still retaining the trademark ‘Maggi’ yellow colour, the family coat of arms is modernised and the new label looks cleaner and fresher. Last but not least, the family also revamped their range of wine, starting from most popular Gentil, then the dry varietal wine Classic (former Hugel) range predominately from purchased grapes, the Estate (previously Tradition) range which only consisted of Riesling and Gewurztraminer from the selected plots in the family estate, followed by the Gossi Laüe range replacing the Jubilee line where grapes are picked from the best sites in the estate. The limited release Schoelhammer, with 2007 being the first vintage, is a single vineyard Riesling from the heart of the Schonenbourg Grand Cru hillside. Vendage Tardive and Selection de Grains Nobles completed the range.

We tasted and compared four varieties in different ranges: Pinot Noir (2014 Classic and 2010 Gossi Laüe), Riesling (2013 Classic, 2012 Estate and 2010 Gossi Laüe) , Pinot Gris (2012 Classic and 2010 Gossi Laüe) and Gewurztraminer (2013 Classic, 2012 Estate, 2010 Gossi Laüe and 2007 Vendate Tardive). All the wines were well-made and each range has a clear identity that appeals to the target customers and occasion. The Classic range is fresh and accessible, the Estate range has an added complexity and dimension while the Gossi Laüe (equivalent to Grosse Lage or Grand Cru) range is the finest expression of terroir. The Gossi Laüe Pinot Noir was complex and elegant, while its Riesling counterpart, awarded the perfect 20/20 points by Bettane & Desseauve, was dense, precise and with longevity.

I am not a big fan of Gewurztraminer but was impressed by the Hugel Gewurztraminer series. They were aromatic but not excessive, full bodied but not heavy, opulent but not right on your face. The Estate one was harmonious while the Gossi Laüe’s was elegant. I think they would match well with the spicy and slightly sweet Korean cuisine.

However, I can feel that Etienne was most proud of the mass appealing Gentil, a wine blended with all the key Alsatian white varieties: Pinot Gris, Riesling, Gewurztraminer, Muscat, Pinot Blanc and Sylvaner. The objective is to produce a consistent wine year on year that goes well with a wide range of food. Each grape contributes a layer or aroma but none dominates the wine. Etienne compared it to champagne - a wine that makes people happy but without the bubbles and the price tag. Its 2007 vintage was selected by Decanter as one of the France’s 50 best-value wine. Etienne was also frank about how Gentil was born - not because of some fancy idea of the winemaker but because of the downturn of the economy after the Gulf War in 1992 when the company was forced to develop a value wine. The name Gentil was chosen because it was the term for a blend of wine from noble grapes in the 1920s. The decision proofed to be a sound one and today 400,000 bottles of Gentil are available in all 109 countries that Hugel exports to. The 2013 vintage was even served on the business class of Japanese airline ANA.

Familie Hugel is in its 13th generation but the company does not show any sign of tiredness or sleepiness. With the changes outlined by Etienne, I can see the family is adapting to future and engaging the young generation while balancing it with quality and traditional value. The new carton box of the crowd-pleasing Gentil, is a picture of the bottle with kisses, with the question, ‘Why do all the ladies go crazy for him?’ and the answer, ‘Because he is always the perfect Gentil-Man’. Well, traditionalists may find this tacky but so what if the majority likes it. After all, it’s only the carton box, Etienne assured us that the kisses are not on the actual bottles.

Etienne is charming and humorous, with a presentation style not dissimilar to Apple Computer founder Steve Job. He has been actively promoting Riesling with Asian cuisine for the past 20 odd years and even produced a set of chopstick with a Hugel cork holder to hammer the message. I hope his effort and love for Asia will be carried on by the young Hugels in future.

Hugel is available from Summergate.

No comments:

Post a Comment