Krug Champagne: Sixth generation director Olivier Krug on the 166th edition of the grand cuvee

Oliver Krug

The vision and legacy of Krug’s founder lives on in the most recent edition of the wine

Between the cherry-red covers of a notebook at the house of Krug based in Reims, one can still read the words penned by its founder Joseph Krug, “It is not possible to make a good wine except from good elements and good terroirs.” Summarising his thoughts on fine champagne production and vision for the house, he continued, “A good house should create only two Champagnes of the same quality.”

The first would be the fullest expression of Champagne every year; and the second an expression of the circumstances of a particular year captured by Krug, created only in the years where there is an interesting story to tell — a vintage champagne, in other words.

The first, as envisioned by Joseph, is the house’s grande cuvee. This year sees the 166th edition, or as Olivier Krug — the sixth generation of the founding family and director of the house — puts it, “The 166th time that Krug releases the dream of its founder.”

It is not without reason that Olivier calls the wine a dream. The term comes from the wife of Joseph who, fearing that her husband’s unconventional vision would ruin the business, admonished, “Please don’t let everything go to waste because of a dream.”

Yet it is exactly on this dream that the company was built and upon which it stands today. “The grande cuvee has been done 166 times in a row and it has never been copied,” Olivier says. “That is the story of Krug.”

Up until the 163rd edition, the wine maker did not speak extensively about its grande cuvee, so people had little idea about the depth and scope involved in recreating, virtually from scratch year after year, “the dream of its founder”. To produce a bottle of Krug grande cuvee, chef de cave Eric Lebel and the tasting committee go through a massive library of wines and numerous tastings and evaluations.

The latest release of the grande cuvee is the product of 140 wines spanning 13 years, with the oldest going as far back as 1998. Pinot Noir and Chardonnay constitute the bulk of the blend, with Meunier making up the remainder. Light golden in colour with fine vivacious bubbles, the wine offers aromas of flowers against citrus fruits, marzipan and gingerbread. Its generous palate opens with hazelnut and nougat leading to barley sugar, almonds and brioche rounding out on a crisp persistent finish.

Call the wine anything you want, but “multi-vintage”, a term Olivier himself promoted several years ago, is the last thing he now wants to hear. “It’s an awful term and now I have to break something I once built.”

The director is quick to affirm his disdain for jargon. “You don’t have to be a specialist to sense the explosion of flavours in your mouth. With Krug, you have to forget everything you know. As soon as you think that you know, you go back to what you had always wanted to escape from.”

How long does it take from the moment a bottle of Krug is made right to the time it reaches the lips of drinkers?

Typically 20 to 25 years, counting from the oldest reserve wine used in the cuvee. The oldest wines we have in our cellars were put aside on purpose with the intention of keeping them for future use.

How does Krug appeal to the upcoming generation of champagne drinkers?

We are very digital and we connect with people through the senses. Of the prestige Champagne brands, Krug is something that people decide to drink; you don’t drink Krug because it is famous or because it is a symbol, but because you love Krug and choose to drink it.

What is the rarest or most prized bottle of Krug in the cellars now?

All of them. We don’t believe in hierarchy between the wines. This is keeping in line with Joseph Krug’s vision, which he recorded in his notebook in 1848.

In the time that the house has been under your charge, what’s the rarest bottle of Krug ever sold?

Krug 1915, which sold for US$116,000 at a charity auction in 2015. It was a bottle made by a woman – my great-grandmother Jeanne – when our city was under the bonds of the First World War.