Henri Krug, former director and chef de caves for Krug Champagne, one of the appellation's most esteemed houses, died March 7, at the age of 75. Reports say he had been suffering from cancer.
“Henri Krug's passing is the disappearance of one of Champagne's great personalities," said Daniel Lorson, former communications director of the Comité Interprofessionnel du Vin de Champagne (CIVC). "He knew how to talk about wines like none other. He had an exceptional talent for explaining the art of blending, and knew in simple terms how to define the Krug style."
Henri was the fifth generation overseeing Krug’s production and management, along with his younger brother Rémi. The house was founded in 1843 by Johann-Joseph Krug. Though Remy Cointreau purchased Krug in 1969 and luxury goods giant LVMH took charge in 1999, the Krug family always remained deeply involved, working with a notable degree of independence.
Henri’s time at Krug began in 1962, at the age of 25. Following family tradition and in order to preserve the house’s distinctive style, he worked closely with his father, Paul Krug II, as well as his then-retired (though still active) grandfather, Joseph Krug II. In 1965, Rémi joined the firm, and their responsibilities were quickly and easily divided: Henri managed the vineyards and winemaking, while Rémi largely handled communications and business.
“We always said we were two sides of the same fruit," Rémi told a French newspaper after his brother passed away. “He was calm, reserved, unassuming, modest and always ready to listen to other people.”
Though they worked side by side for many years with their father, Henri's and Rémi partnership shaped the modern lineup of Krug Champagne. To begin with, they reintroduced the house’s prestige bottling in 1979 as the Grande Cuvée, packaging the wine in the distinctive, fluted bottle that is a hallmark of Krug Champagne today. Henri also formalized the tasting panel that works for months each year creating and blending the wine, as well as strengthening the house’s relationships with top growers in the region and their supply of high-quality grapes.
In 1971 Krug purchased approximately 15 acres of land in the village of Le Mesnil sur Oger, including the enclosed, 4.5-acre Clos du Mesnil vineyard. With an exceptional harvest in 1979 and the quality of the Chardonnay of this vineyard, the brothers eschewed Champagne’s tradition of blending multiple grape varieties and produced the 1979 Brut Blanc de Blancs Clos du Mesnil (98 points non-blind, $3,350 at auction), made from one grape, from one plot and one outstanding year. The wine has been an icon of Champagne ever since.
At roughly the same time, Rémi recognized growing market demand for rosé Champagne. Though their father was against the idea, the brothers felt strongly enough about its potential to secretly produce a rosé in 1976. After aging was complete in 1983, they served the wine blind to their father. Paul was sufficiently impressed that a rosé could adhere to the house style, and so a Brut Rosé NV was created.
The latest addition to Krug’s bottlings, the vintage Brut Blanc de Noirs Clos d’Ambonnay, owes inspiration to Henri as well. Henri’s son Olivier began working with the house in 1979, and following Clos du Mesnil’s success, Henri planted an idea in his son’s head, saying, “Maybe your responsibility is to find a Pinot Noir vineyard to be a little brother to Clos du Mesnil.” Krug purchased the 1.7-acre Clos d’Ambonnay vineyard in 1994, releasing the 1995 vintage (95 points) in 2009, for $3,500 per bottle.
"He was a perfectionist who has been able to convey his passion and demand for precision to Olivier," said Lorson.
Henri officially retired in 2002, but remained active with the house’s day-to-day work until 2007. Henri left the reins of Krug in the hands of Olivier, director of the house since 2009, and Eric Lebel, chef de caves since 1998. Henri is survived by his brother Rémi, his wife, Odile, their five children and several grandchildren.