Henri Krug dies

Henri Krug

by Ian Blackshaw

I have just learned that Henri Krug of the famous Champagne House died at the beginning of March at the age of 76, and, as a Champagne aficionado, I thought that a few words to mark his passing might be appropriate, even though, generally speaking, I cannot afford to drink his famous products.

The Champagne House of Krug was founded in Reims, the capital of the Champagne region, in 1843 by Johann-Joseph Krug, a German immigrant from Mainz on the Rhine. He learned the art of Champagne making at the Champagne House of Jacquesson nine years before setting up his own House.

Henri Krug took over the reins in 1962 and developed the distinctive style of Krug Champagne – reputedly the favourite tipple, by the way, of Cilla Black, the singer and entertainer – and became renowned for his skills as a blender (‘manipulateur’), using wines from as many as 15 vintages.

Although, since 1999, Krug has been part of the LVMH Group, the global luxury products conglomerate, Krug has enjoyed a certain degree of autonomy, and Henri Krug is credited with maintaining the House’s fine reputation and consistent style and quality both before and after the takeover.

During his tenure as President of Krug and cellar master, he was responsible – against his father’s wishes! – of introducing a fine Krug Rose, which his father had to recognise as such, and also a ‘Blanc de Blanc’ Champagne made from a single grape variety, Chardonnay. Being one of the ‘Grande Marques’, Krug does not come cheap, but, from time to time, it is worth splashing out and enjoying, from time to time, a bottle of one the five Krug blends, all distinctive but of equal quality.

He was a visionary and in the 1990’s opened up new markets abroad, including Japan, which has since become the most important market for Krug Champagne.

He retired in 2002, handing over to his son Olivier, but remained a member of the Krug tasting panel responsible for the introduction of each cuvee. According to Olivier: “Perfectionism guided his every action.”

He has also been described as a “real Champenoise who symbolised the best of the old traditions of Champagne.”

Despite his achievements, he was, by all accounts, a modest man, but his place in the pantheon of the great Champagne makers is assured and also well-deserved!