During the upcoming Love Wines there will be several exciting master classes as we already explained, but without a doubt one of the most interesting ones will be by Jean Frederic, 13th generation from the upcoming Hugel family – "ALSACE: FRUIT & TERROIR SIDE BY SIDE". Since we love Alsace the choice of a class was easy but you have time until the 15th of March to save yourself a spot for this and the other master classes available, afterwards you might miss out. And now off we go to Alsace.
What should a Bulgarian wine lover know about Alsace and Hugel?
This can be a long speech! Alsace is probably the most incredibly and surprisingly suited region for grape growing. The vine is present here since the Romans brought it in during their conquest of the region around 50BC, and a wine trade very soon followed. The reasons are the following: Climate, first; our unique location allows us to grow grapes at a latitude which shouldn’t normally allow it. Alsace is a very dry region, sheltered by the Vosges mountain chain with a continental climate resulting in harsh winters and warm summers. But also cool nights and bright and warm days during the growing season. The little humidity in the air also cause very little vine diseases, allowing us to keep our grapes on the vine longer for prolonged growing season and more harmonious development of aromatics and complexity. Alsace is also unique due to its soils; more diverse than anywhere else on the planet. This “mosaic” of different soil composition took vintners close to two centuries to domesticate, but allows us today to grow 7 different grape varieties on hundreds of different locations, “lieux dits”, “Grands Crus”, and soon “Premiers Crus”.
The history of our family is deeply rooted in this land. The first Hugel, Hans Ulrich, settled in Riquewihr in 1639, and started working his vineyards. His passion and hard work soon granted him the title of head of the vintner’s corporation, a highly honorific title; and normally a lifetime achievement. Today, it is the same passion which drives us but the history of the region is troubled. Due to its strategic location, and its highly valuable land, Alsace has always been the price for the winner of almost every war coming across Europe. My ancestors nevertheless always passed on the company in the best possible condition to the next generation, for now 379 consecutive vintages, on the same land which saw 13 generations of Hugels be born.
Hugel is still today seen as a benchmark in Alsace, with a very recognizable style, a recognizable label and notorious quality. Hugel wines are often referred to as the ambassadors of Alsace wines.
The majority of Hugel wines are exported. Can you paint a picture for Alsace wines in different markets for 2018?
Today Hugel wines are sold to 96 countries, as our wines are often the first Alsace people taste, we have a responsibility not only for ourselves, but also to the region. Alsace remains a small wine region in size, especially if you compare it to Bordeaux, Burgundy, Loire… But with a surprisingly high level of notoriety amongst very passionate and knowledgeable drinkers! For the region, the so called mature markets still remain the same, Germany, USA, Quebec, Belgium, Scandinavia generally speaking… But Alsace also has a bright future in some other areas of the world, namely Asia, our wines pair very well with many far eastern cuisines and Japan for example has been a strong market for us for years. China is expected to grow again in 2018, despite their thirst for red wines, while we are specialists for white wines here. In China we call them golden wines. The return to global growth is a bright sign for wine consumption, product of pleasure by excellence, wine sales always suffer from political and economic instability.
Famille Hugel is a member of Primum Familiae Vini. In what way has this shaped the current state of the business?
Being a member of PFV has a very strong meaning for us and we are very honored to have been appointed to represent Alsace in this group side by side with some of the world’s very best producers. We share experience, knowledge; we also group for events, promoting family values of sustainability, consistency, perpetuating and passing over our passion. On a more personal note, it is through these people, amongst friends that I began with wine, it is probably vastly responsible for my interest in wine.
The 11 members, Pol Roger, Symington, the Rothschild family, Torres, Egon Müller, Antinori, Tenuta San Guido, Perrin, Vega Sicilia, Drouhin are respected wineries and brands, but foremost, what makes the uniqueness of them is the people. When I think of PFV, I think of the remarkable families and peoples that make the association.
From your experiences, what makes an outstanding:
Elegance and finesse, it is never a very flamboyant wine, often more discrete, it doesn’t shout at you, but it is our job to make it sing. But what is most important with that grape: it probably is the best to reveal the place. It is a terroir magnifier: it doesn’t handle oak very well, neither does it like long elevage; in fact, the less you touch it, the better the final wine. The result is that the best Rieslings simply come from the best places, given that the vineyard management leans towards producing great wines and the vinification is respectful of the raw material: the grapes. In one word: a Chardonnay is made great; a great Riesling is grown great!
Gewurztraminer is a very aromatic wine, the grapes already are incredibly tasty, with a thick skin but absolutely delicious to eat and so fragrant! Sometimes a bit too much! It is a grape for which more is not always better: riper, more extracted often also means more heavy and sometimes too heavy. And of course the place, the place, the place! At Hugel we consider Gewurztraminer should be grown in areas with a minimum of 30% clay in the soil. In fact, the Sporen, our best vineyard for this grape is up to 60% of clay, which makes it one of the most clayey vineyards in the world! Then the slow ripening and the cool nights of Alsace provides aromatics and balance.
For no grape is picking time as important as for Pinot Gris. This grape is the fastest ripening of ours and harvesting it a few days too late will turn your beautifully dry full-bodied Pinot into a sweet wine with no acid balance whatsoever. In addition, Pinot Gris is a close cousin of Pinot Noir, and as its red counterpart, it will necessitate low yields to express all of its savory character, its depth and its complexity.
A good Muscat is one you end up harvesting! And I just barely exaggerate the issue there, it is such a diva, a drama queen, doesn’t like ti too dry, doesn’t like it too wet. Needs wind during blooming, no rain, no heat… Muscat is sensitive to coulure (non-viable fruits due to bad flower - fruit transition), it is sensitive to rot and sensitive to rain at harvest time. It is such a delicate grape that its production in the region has plummeted to 4% of the appellation today, a very limited volume.
What does it feel like to be a 13th generation Hugel in terms of responsibility, pride and vision for the next generations?
It is very admittedly a great responsibility, which my cousin and I take with pride. When I look at my grandfather who devoted his whole life to the family venture, not to name the 10 generations before him, it is a reminder that you don’t want to be the generation responsible for it to stop. Otherwise we’ll have 11 generations haunting us!
What can visitors expect to taste and learn from your upcoming Master Class?
We’re not known for serving people bullshit! No French or American oak, no made up stories about why the label has a unicorn on it, no moon calendar, no magic! Alsace is all about the place, so we’ll be making the difference between wines of fruit and wines of place. I will take people from what they thought they knew about white wines (light crisp) to understanding that they can show more diversity, complexity, intensity and depth than they would ever think. And of course, there is one common denominator for great wines, it is that they age fantastically, and this can only be shown through opening some bottles. Old bottles!
This being said, you can rely on an unforgettable tasting, great company and a true immersion in the terroir of Alsace. See you on March 24, 2018.