When Henri Krug sat down with his 22-year-old son to discuss the succession plan of the family business—one of the leading Champagne houses in the world—Olivier was more than a little baffled by his father’s guidance.
“My father told me: My job is like that of an orchestra conductor. The task is to recreate the same music, the dream of our ancestor, but without a formula,” says Olivier, who became the sixth generation to lead the Krug Champagne dynasty in 2009. Henri went on to give him advice that was more poetic than corporate. “Even if there was a recipe to making our Champagne, it wouldn’t work,” Olivier soon discovered. “We have different climates, and it would be impossible to recreate the same quality year over year with only one vineyard’s harvest. This means every year there’s a new set of musicians and I need to select the ones that will make the right music.”
“Musicians” is the term Olivier adopted from his father to refer to the different cépages (grape varietals) used to recreate the finished product each year. While many wine and Champagne producers reluctantly accept that some years will yield better bottles than others, this was simply not an option for Joseph Krug, Olivier’s great-great-great grandfather and the Champagne house’s founder.
The proof exists in the elegant and airy library of the House of Krug, a room that overlooks the picturesque estate courtyard with its perfectly manicured grass, stone tile patio and shaded area of landscaped trees and greenery. It is there that a century-old leather notebook with yellowed pages resides, a sort of Krug Champagne bible or, in Henri’s thinking, a classic songbook. Written in neat cursive French and dated to 1848, a bookmarked entry sums up his uncompromising ambition and determination: “I only want to make the very best every year. The composition should be altered every year to recreate the most generous expression of Champagne.”
And so, with this process of meticulous sourcing and blending, each year replicating the same complex profile but with a different composition of wines, the creation of Krug Champagne was essentially the founding of a new craft in itself. Joseph Krug scoured the region for the best growers, building a network of Champagne region vineyards that would supply him with some of their best grapes. Even if Krug’s harvest is less than perfect in a given year, two thirds of the cépages are supplied from such a diverse curation of vineyards throughout Reims that there’s always enough quality to blend a finished product that hits the high notes. Some of the highest quality cépages are then saved as reserve wines to bolster blends in years ahead. The result is a bubbly that is consistently bright, crisp and complex in its flavors. Today, Krug Grande Cuvée is a blend of over 120 wines coming from 10 or more different vintages—some up to 11 years old—originating from different vineyards.
“If I’m tanned, it’s not because I’ve been on holiday,” says Olivier, though Reims can’t help but inspire wanderlust with its postcard-worthy terrain. “I’ve spent the last weeks in the vineyards, with the growers, to maintain our relationships. Much like a chef goes to the market and sources ingredients from his trusted suppliers, we do the same.” Today, that network includes 100 different growers, some of whom have been working with Krug for over 130 years.
Yet Krug has impressively transitioned to keep up with the times. The back of each bottle features an identification code that can be scanned through the Krug app to share that specific bottle’s blend and grape information, as well as a suggested playlist created through the program. But although the brand has adapted to this digital world—“we used to get handwritten letters from Krug lovers, and now we are in contact with our fans via Instagram direct messages,” says Olivier—tradition is still highly valued. The House of Krug hosts several intimate concerts in its gardens as part of les Flâneries Musicales de Reims, an annual festival that takes place each summer. The estate has even created what’s called the Krug Yurt—an intricate wood vessel that required over 900 hours of carpentry—as a location for its musical tastings (which can be arranged for select guests upon request).
This juxtaposition of old and new is what lets Krug stand out among its competitors, appealing to both its longstanding clientele (loyal collectors have been known to buy vintages for record-setting auction prices, such as a 1928 edition that sold for over $21,000) and a newer generation of Champagne lovers experiencing Krug’s flavors for the first time, learning more about the process with a smartphone scan or a soundtrack on the app. For this iconic brand, age-old techniques and modern technologies are living in perfect harmony, you might say.
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