Blending a Champagne lifestyle: Krug chief Margareth HenriquezBy Andrew Dembina on December 15, 2016
Despite contending with both a cold and the jetlag inherent in stepping off a long-haul flight a few hours before we meet, Margareth Henriquez, president and chief executive of Krug, is in full descriptive swing on the Champagne she represents, and is insisting we try the rosé version of the newly launched Grande Cuvée 163ème Édition. We’ve already sipped some of the white, and it’s only 10:30am.
The native Venezuelan, who joined the Champagne house in 2009, becomes animated when describing what it takes to make the best sparkling wines in the world: the best fruit, and a wide range of wines to play with to create the perfect blend. “[Founder] Joseph Krug wrote about this in detail to his son in the 1850s. He insisted old wines should be kept in reserve, to be an important part of the blend – which no one was doing at that time. We now have a ‘library’ of old wines – 150 reserve wines from [the past] 14 years. Our cuvées are a symphony of these and the result of about 250 [vintage] elements received and tasted every year.” She adds, “You cannot achieve all the flavours of Champagne [using grapes from only] one year. There are just too many different expressions.”
The charismatic Henriquez – who ran liquor conglomerate Seagram’s Venezuelan business during the first half of the 1990s – is quick to point out not only Krug’s unique selling points but also where the brand may have, temporarily at least, lost its way. “The biggest mistake Krug made in the past six years was not to identify every one of the creations [components] in the Grande Cuvée – you want to be able to notice all those elements. Because if you taste cuvées from different years, you’ll notice how different they are.”
From 2010, after a year of observing and getting to know Krug, Henriquez says she recognised a need to develop the public’s perception of the luxury brand. To achieve this, she first worked on deepening her own understanding. “We were so lucky to have access to the notebooks of the founder, which showed us his plans,” she says. “And I followed the whole winemaking process. I asked our cellar master, Eric Lebel, to [follow it] whenever possible.”
As the Krug team blind-tasted eight Grand Cuvée back vintages that year, an interesting revelation occurred. “The 2002 [a widely heralded vintage in Champagne], which we all expected to be one of the best, is great now, but it was so closed then,” she recalls. “The winner was the 2001, which had been the worst year in centuries.”
These kind of surprises – along with information fastidiously gathered at numerous tastings – led Henriquez to spearhead new label documentation, beginning in 2011. ID numbers were added to enable the vintage and date of yeast disgorgement of a cuvée’s components to be looked up using Krug’s mobile app.
Many Champagne producers align themselves with luxury lifestyle events, but Henriquez says Krug, a relatively small house in the region, is not one of them. It is very aware of its place within aspirational living though, and has ambassadors from various fields championing its name. “Champagne brand building has a lot to do with ‘lifestyle’,” she says. “It’s about emotion – and many things, including a high level of aesthetics.”
A case in point is a recent partnership with shoemaker, and fellow member of the LVMH portfolio, Berluti. “They too are very refined, independent; they do what they want. We’re both about being discreet, not showing off, and have a passion for the raw materials, creativity, and going beyond what others do,” explains Henriquez. “They have created a patina for Krug, and they also created a square bag for Krug – to carry one or two bottles. We also launched a collaboration that pairs [certain] Berluti shoes with [specific] Krug Champagnes. We suggest that if you like one, you’ll probably like the other.”
In a similar vein, the house works with musicians, who are invited to taste Champagnes and suggest the music that best matches. The musical pairings deemed most successful are accessible via the Krug app. The brand has also been working with neuroscientists researching music and Champagne at Oxford University’s Crossmodal Research Laboratory. “We want to take this [musical exploration] to an even higher level,” explains Henriquez.
Krug has captured crossover attention with its annual global championing of a humble food ingredient over the past two years. This year the egg was the focus (last year it was the potato), with selected restaurants asked to create a dish that pairs well with the cuvée. “It’s rooted in the house’s obsession with the profile of every ingredient [grape] that is used in the vineyard,” says Henriquez. “The founder used to call these ‘the elements’ – and they are the basis for the quality [of the blend]. And this quality is enhanced when we bring together all these chefs – all of them playing joyfully, around Krug.”
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