Exclusive by James Wilkinson
The eldest of Henri Krug’s five children, OLIVIER KRUG, sits down with HM to chat about his role as Directeur de la Maison (in charge of wine makers) at the House of Krug, and the opportunities and challenges in the world’s most well-known region.
Olivier, you’re the sixth generation of the family to be part of the Krug dynasty. Tell us about your path in the business.
I may be the sixth generation of the family so yes, there is a tradition there, but it’s got nothing to do with preserving a dynasty. For me, it has always been about sharing the passion. There was never any pressure on me to join the company when I was growing up.
I studied economics and finance and had nothing to do with the House until the age of 23 when my father Henri Krug asked if I was interested. He wanted to retire in fifteen years and told me this was how long it would take to share all his knowledge. But because I was born next door to Krug in Reims, I was surrounded by the production of Champagne from an early age. In fact, I can now safely say I am the only Krug employee who cycled and played football in the cellars, even if I was supposedly not allowed in the winery!
I started out by moving to Japan, I spent two years there in the early 1990’s, building the Krug name. What used to be a tiny market for us is now the biggest in the world.
Today, I am Director of the House of Krug and also part of the Tasting Committee. I foster the special relationship between Krug and winegrowers, Krug and Krug Lovers, following my great-great-great grandfather’s vision that Champagne is above all about sharing pleasure.
Tell us about your current releases and why they are drinking exceptionally well at present.
Our current releases are Krug 2003 and Krug 2000. When he founded the House in 1843, my great-great-great grandfather Joseph Krug had two beliefs; firstly that his Champagne would be of undisputed quality, making no compromise in any way, and secondly, that all his Champagnes would be of the same quality.
Krug 2003 is a fitting tribute to the unique craftsmanship of which I am so proud; where we truly consider each plot as its own individual wine. Thanks to this, our Chef de Caves Eric Lebel and his team were able to select several plots from a specific location to enhance the finesse of a particularly warm year. So Krug 2003 is the rare and unexpected story of a really hot year – I’ll never forget it! – captured by Krug. We started calling Krug Vintage 2003 Vivacious Radiance because it reminded all us of the intense sun and heat of the year, while also possessing a vivacious energy and infinite finesse.
We decided to create Krug 2000 for the last year of the millennium. We called it Stormy Indulgence because of the infinite indulgence of this unusual, climatically chaotic year.
As with all Krug Champagnes, Krug 2003 and Krug 2000 will only gain with time, but they both already have an energy that is ready to be savoured and shared!
Tell us about how you come to selecting the finest grapes from growers and ensuring Krug continues to be one of the highest quality Champagnes in the world.
At Krug we have a long-standing and truly personal relationship with many of the wonderful growers in the Champagne region who share our philosophy and commitment to the individuality of each plot. I believe it is because we consider every plot as an individual, where each wine can bring its own individual character to a potential blend which allows Krug to consistently create such Champagnes. Just how we started, back in 1843, we continue; no compromise, and with absolute love and dedication to our craft.
This must present some significant challenges, especially when vintages can vary greatly, right?
Krug Vintages maintain the same exemplary quality but are created according to circumstances. It’s not that we simply select the best wines of a superlative year, but we blend of beautifully expressive wines from particularly special years with an incredible story to tell, all of which are then enhanced by ageing over ten years in our cellars.
Created to go beyond the notion of vintages, Krug Grande Cuvée is the most generous expression of Champagne every single year. It really does represent the dream of my ancestor, Joseph Krug, who wanted simply to offer the very best every year. Today, it takes 20 years to create a single bottle of Krug Grande Cuvée. For us, time is a strength.
Of course there are significant challenges, but we see these as opportunities – we relish finding the gems and helping them sing…
Are you concerned about the increasing effect climate change is having on growing patterns?
Of course I am. Our goal, like any other Champagne House or wine grower, is to stay true to our beloved vineyards.
What have been some of the standout years over the past decade and what can we expect from the latest harvest?
I believe each harvest has its own story to tell. At Krug, Eric Lebel and his team are currently tasting the wines of the 2014 harvest and at the moment it’s still too early to have an idea of what we can expect. That’s not to say I’m not looking forward to finding out!
And over the last half century? Which are the years still in incredible demand (and why in each case)?
Krug is the only House in Champagne which has been crafting only Prestige Champagnes every year since our foundation 170 years ago. Today we offer seven different expressions of Champagnes, all of undisputed quality with amazing ageing potential but each telling a different story… All our Champagnes are in high demand, just as an example, we recently participated in an auction at a prestigious charity event in Florida, the Naples Winter Wine Festival, which raised more than $12 million dollars for the Children and Education Association, and where our full collection of 130 bottles went for an incredible $500,000.
Your role also involves you being a face of the brand globally. What do you enjoy most about this part of your job?
Everyone at Krug has the responsibility to stay true to Joseph’s reasons for creating the House in 1843. His vision was to bring the ‘ultimate expression of pleasure’ every year, by creating the most generous, yet elegant, expression of Champagne.
Joseph Krug understood that the essence of Champagne is above all pleasure. Today, there is a unique bond between Krug and our Krug Lovers. Krug connects people from the vineyards to the most far-flung corners of the world. Krug is an instantaneous connector because Champagne lovers never forget their first experience with Krug.
And this is exactly what I enjoy the most, spreading the Krug messages and values to all these people.
I have read that when you went to Japan, the brand wasn’t known there. What affect did that have on you and the brand?
I have a long-term love story with Japan as it is where I started my career. The Japanese, I feel, are very passionate people and they are all about giving pleasure rather than collecting it. It’s a wonderful place to visit!
And yes indeed, when I first travelled to Japan, I realized that the brand wasn’t known at all. It really gave me the ambition to develop our notoriety and help people discover our Champagnes. It worked pretty well, in only a few years Japan became our biggest market.
You almost didn’t join the family business. What could you have been doing instead?
As I studied economics and finance, I could have done many other things! But I’ll always be linked to Champagne somehow, I know that for sure. But I do have other passions: my little boat and going fishing for sea bass.
On each bottle of Krug, there’s now a unique identification number that outlines the history of that wine. Tell us about how this came about and how it works.
As I said before, above all we value all the connection to our Krug Lovers. And because we wanted to deepen this relationship we developed this latest innovation: a six-digit number on the back label of each bottle, the Krug ID!
These numbers allow you to identify your bottle by revealing its unique history, from when it was created to when it left the cellars and the harvest challenges of the year, as told by Eric Lebel.
And you can get access to all this information by downloading the Krug App! It’s a great tool for a complete and immersive Krug experience, I love it. It features a section with food pairing recommendations by Krug Lover chefs. But because we don’t believe there should be any rules with food pairings, we also encourage visitors to create their own personal spaces to post comments, photos, food-pairing suggestions and memorable Krug experiences to then share via their own social media networks.
The most exciting new feature is the Music Pairing, a totally new Krug tasting experience. Similar to food pairings, the Krug application also showcases playlists of different musical styles for each Krug Champagne. Every two to three months Krug invites a new musical artist to curate a playlist for each of the seven Krug Champagnes. Music speaks a language everyone can understand, allowing people to connect to their emotions on a different level, just as you do to the different Krug Champagnes.
There are a number of Champagne houses that truly are in the upper-echelon of winemakers. What makes Krug stand out in the current market?
Superiority is not part of our vocabulary, and neither is competition. We concentrate on sharing and giving an emotion of generosity with feeling. I believe, and my great-great-great grandfather believed, this is what Champagne is all about.
When I talk about Champagne I talk about the pleasure. Pleasure is about sharing and falling in love and this is what makes Krug so unique.
Of course, Krug has been among the most highly rated Champagnes for decades, and this consistency brings great joy to our teams as it is a recognition of the value of our passion.
But for us, the relationships we foster and loyalty we gain is essential to our being. We are complex to replicate because of our Krug Lovers who have perfected the art of pleasure while enjoying Krug over many years.