I find studying family history to be fascinating. My family has always been a bit into it; my dad had done some research and so did his cousins. In fact, growing up we had big family reunions every five years or so, and smaller family reunions even more frequently than that. And then it sort of passed on to my brother and me. We've traced one line back roughly to when we immigrated to America from Wales or England, though there's some confusion as to who that first person in our family to come to America was. That's eight generations we've more or less figured out. But in all that there's been a lot of movement and a lot of different careers. There's no constant throughout all those years.
Jean Frédéric, on the other hand, is the 13th generation of Hugel winemakers in Alsace. This family has been doing the same thing for 377 years, since 1639. "Talk about job security," I said to one friend in talking about the Hugel family. But I quickly realized there's bound to be a lot of pressure as well. After all, you don't want to be the generation that breaks that record. After meeting with Jean Frédéric on our first day of winery visits in Alsace, I wasn't worried about that. He seemed to thoroughly enjoy the winemaking business and knew his family history well. In fact, he shared the secret to running a family business like theirs: "You have to argue. You need to argue a lot, but only in business."
The jovial and knowledgeable Jean Frédéric took us on a fabulous tour of their facilities, which despite being tucked into a tiny town of 2,000 inhabitants--but that sees over 2 million visitors every year--was quite expansive, covering at least 4 stories, both above and below ground. They do have fancy new horizontal pneumatic presses, but from there, everything is gravity fed down to fermentation tanks or barrels. Most of these barrels, casks really, are 100 years old and 70 hl (roughly 1,850 gallons). One of them, however, nicknamed Ste. Catherine, dates from
After our walk, we sat down in Hugel's beautiful private tasting room and tasted through what seemed like most of the wine they make, a very gracious gesture. We started with the "Classics": Gentil (a traditional Alsatian blend of their best grapes, and coincidentally Hugel's only varietally blended wine), Riesling, Muscat, Pinot Gris, and then moved up the ladder. While Pinot Gris and Muscat are great everyday wines--and I'd include Pinot Blanc in there--Alsace is really known for Riesling and Gewurztraminer, and so this is what Hugel makes best. In all we tasted seven Rieslings and three Gewurztraminers, along with a smattering of other things. These ranged from their Classic series and Estate wines, to the Jubliee reserve wines and the brand new Schoelhammer bottling. We even tasted a few late harvest wines that are a seductive balance between acidity and sweetness. However, the star of the show was the first release of their single lot wine Schoelhammer.
After two or three hours of talking and drinking, we left Jean Frédéric, after buying more than a few bottles, and headed down the road to Colmar for dinner. We found a great restaurant, Winstub Flory and made reservations at Jean Frédéric's recommendation, Wistub Brenner, for the next night. After all, nothing goes with Alsatian wine quite like Alsatian food.