Krug – You Never Forget Your First Sip



Starting with the equally presumptuous and absurd aim to reinvent champagne, German-born Joseph Krug’s dream came true in France when he succeeded in producing a scintillating bubbly that charmed the connoisseurs of his time. Today, six generations and innumerable awards later, Krug is in the process of reinventing itself. After looking closely at the achievements of bygone days, the company is ready to create new stories, told with the traditional commitment to excellence.

Snow-white gravel crunches underfoot as we walk along a path bordered by well-tended flowerbeds of pink miniature rose bushes and purple lavender. A long, half-timbered building of yellow and red brickwork decoratively stands in the walled-in grounds. Old maple and chestnut trees cast a little shade on the vineyards that contain nearly one hundred rows of heavily laden vines. A well-maintained location resembling an exclusive holiday residence, the Clos d'Ambonnay, is actually just a normal vineyard, albeit one with an extremely picturesque warehouse. Welcome to the world of Krug Champagne, where commitment to excellence has reigned for 170 years.

Connoisseurs say that Krug begins where champagne ends.

The sparkling liquid produced by the small and extremely exclusive House of Champagne wins multiple prizes and awards every year. Of the 100 points awarded in expert rankings, the brand routinely achieves 95 points or more. The bottles bearing the golden-yellow Grande Cuvée labels even have their own global fan club, the so-called “Krug Lovers,” who, when it comes to champagne, have an unshakeable rule: Either Krug or nothing.

But what makes this champagne so special? What is its essence? Nobody is better equipped to explain this than Olivier Krug, the great-great-great-grandson of founder Joseph Krug, whose earnest features portrayed in oil can be found in the visitor's salon “The House’s specialty is a champagne that delivers the best of champagne with every single glass. Our motto is to give it our all – and this every year.” Clearly accustomed to his words not being understood straight away, the 46-year-old with sparkling blue eyes continues to explain the house philosophy with a liberal use of metaphor.

“Take the conductor who loves Mozart. He travels around the world, plays with different orchestras, different musicians, and different instruments. And in every concert he gives his all. That, in a nutshell, is our philosophy.” The grapes and the soil, the topography and the climate – in short, the terroir – constitute the instruments and the musicians from which Krug extracts the best possible results. “For six generations, we've been realizing Joseph's dream to create a luxury product that provides it all, even if nature is not always willing to cooperate.” Krug’s ability to pull off this conjuring trick every year, time and again since 1843, borders on alchemy. Especially since no foolproof recipe exists that Olivier Krug and chef de caves Eric Lebel could fall back on. Founding father Joseph Krug only wrote down some rudimentary advice for his descendants in his little red-leather notebook. “His first sentence reads: Good wine can only be made with good elements,” his great-great-great-grandson recites while lovingly moving a finger over the yellowing page.

By “elements” he meant the vintages and the terroirs. A single vineyard can produce varying degrees of quality that Krug in turn makes into a number of very different wines. Other champagne makers avoid the considerable effort this approach brings: One location, one wine is their motto. Moreover, Krug also puts one third of its annual harvest aside as a reserve. Yet another particularity of this company with just over 50 employees that constitutes a small, yet brightly burning light in the big business champagne has become.

Ultimately, champagne is about enjoyment and emotions. People are always telling me about the first sip they took because that is something you never forget!

Vintages from the past 15 years slumber in the so-called library in the basement of the ancestral home in the center of Reims, awaiting their cue. In a four-month-long tasting marathon, a five-member committee decides when the big day has finally arrived. Mr. Krug explains, “During this period, we taste 1,000 wines. That seems like a lot, but, as we’re closely involved from the moment the grapes are harvested, it's not as difficult as it sounds. We meet three times a week, always at eleven o'clock.” The hour is chosen deliberately because this is when breakfast has become a distant memory and the taste buds are waking up in anticipation of lunch.

Each year anew, the committee has to pull off the masterpiece of creating the renowned Grande Cuvée by blending new and older vintages. Mr. Krug brings out his music metaphor again, saying, “It is essential to choose the right wine, by which I don’t necessarily mean the best wine, for the assemblage. It's not a question of finding the 15 most talented violinists to play a composition. It’s more important to find the 15 that harmonize best with each other.” Yet his example oversimplifies matters since the House of Krug's flagship product, the Grande Cuvée, is not made up of merely 15 wines; it is composed of more than one hundred different wines dating from the last 20 years. Nowadays, the vintages of the fine wines that are effectively blended in a bottle can be identified with the help of a computer app. By entering the ID number that is marked on each label, the buyer can take a peek behind the scenes and see how the chef de caves and the company’s successor proceed. At least to a certain degree.

In fact, Olivier Krug isn’t really interested in explaining how Krug champagne is made. “Who really cares about these things? Ultimately, champagne is about enjoyment and emotions. People are always telling me about the first sip they took because that is something you never forget!” The scion of the House of Krug was born and raised in the house directly over the wine cellars. The courtyard where the oak barrels are cleaned is where he learned how to ride his bicycle. Given his background, he considers it a part of his professional duty, but also a familial duty, to tell the stories of the things that contributed to making Krug what it is today. He also wants to breathe new life into the brand that has belonged to luxury conglomerate LVMH since 1999 and that is headed by a South American chair. The brand needs to get out of its fusty niche of “champagne for connoisseurs” and become better known and more available to people.

First your mouth is filled with a refreshing hint of citrus fruit, then the taste becomes softer, with sensations of honey, fresh almonds, then ginger, brioche, and so on and so forth.

There is no doubt that the father of four and self-confessed epicure is the best person for the job as he ceaselessly travels the globe to spread Grande Cuvée euphoria. He beams as he holds to the light a specially crafted bottle labeled “Le Joseph” filled with golden, sparkling champagne. “Do you know what happens if you take a sip of this? It goes boom! First your mouth is filled with a refreshing hint of citrus fruit, then the taste becomes softer, with sensations of honey, fresh almonds, then ginger, brioche, and so on and so forth. A firework of flavors!” Mr. Krug pauses briefly and then amends, “No, actually the description a friend from New Zealand gave me is even better. He said, ‘The first sip knocked my socks off!’ Yes, that is it. That, precisely, is Krug!”

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