Few champagne producers have a higher reputation than Krug. A cornerstone of the Maison’s craftsmanship is the concept of individuality, the art of turning the harvest from every plot into a separate wine and then following its individual character before any blending decision is made. When the House of Krug adds a musical approach to Champagne creation: each plot of vines is a musician and a Cellar Master, is its conductor selecting those who will together perform the most generous expression of Grande Cuvée each year. 2019 was the first encounter between the House’s compositions and celebrated composer Ryuichi Sakamoto.
Seeing sound, hearing Krug
Building upon decades of experience translating emotions into music, the creator of soundtracks for some of the most celebrated films in the world, spent 18 months composing and finally recording a Suite in three movements to illustrate a trio of Krug Champagnes called ‘Suite for Krug in 2008’: Krug Clos du Mesnil 2008, Krug 2008 and Krug Grande Cuvée 164ème Édition.
The first of Sakamoto-san’s movements is a Solo, echoing the purity and precision of Krug Clos du Mesnil as discovered by Cellar Master Cavil, a virtuoso soloist- a plot of Chardonnay which expressed a purity so distinct, it had to be captured and translated by the famed Japanese artist thusly, ““For this pure, single plot Champagne I minimised the arrangement to the core melodic theme. This minimal form represents the discrete, fresh, and inspiring sensations of Krug Clos du Mesnil 2008.”
The second movement brings a small ensemble together around Krug 2008, performing the music of the year 2008 inspired by Cavil’s identification of a multitude of plots and grape varieties that together expressed the specific circumstances of that year. “It is the musical ensemble telling the story of the year in Champagne. For this balanced and elegant Champagne, I chose an ensemble of primarily violins, cellos, and other stringed instruments but also added woodwinds for depth,” explains Sakamoto.
In the last of the three movements, Mr. Sakamoto expresses the generosity of Krug Grande Cuvée 164th Édition, performed by a full symphonic orchestra. 30 men, each doing their part for the whole, a symphony of talent and muse, a literal analogy of the myriad of ingredients, blends and techniques that result in the final product – exquisite champagne. Cavil’s latest Édition of Krug Grande Cuvée was a blend of 127 wines from 11 different years, the oldest being 1990 and the youngest 2008. She had found her suite and in these three expressions of an unforgettable year, Sakamoto-san had found his voice and our symphony. Sakamoto tells Augustman, “I was on a quest for harmony from multiple sounds, instrumental & electronic. The fullness of flavours and aromas of Krug Grande Cuvée 164ème Édition means that everyone finds something in it that strikes them in a personal way – each experience is unique. My third movement is the same, each listener will take away something different.”
After the concert, we caught up with Manuel Reman, recently appointed president of Krug. At 44, he is one of the youngest presidents in the brand’s history but having experienced a diversity of portfolios across the champagne industry, he’s also the House’s most well-rounded Chief Executive.
Taking over for Krug in April 2022, do you feel you bring some transferable lessons or experiences over from Moët Chandon?
I’ve had an 18 year career in champagne and been blessed to change position every two to three years, spending time in strategy and production, working with the growers, understanding wine, grape supply, finance. I’ve also been in charge of the Spanish and Portuguese markets, so I understand trade and distribution. These combined skills sets and a holistic vision is what I bring to the table.
I’ve told my team, I’m not an expert but I’m managing a team of experts. They are the Neymar and Messi (Ed’s note: top footballers) of what they do, I’m just here to ensure they have everything they need to perform their best, much like a conductor. Being able to understand the details of everyone’s job helps.
In the last few months since you’ve taken over your portfolio, what would you say your biggest challenges are?
We sold out last year and that has never happened before! What we have right now in the cellar for the coming years is amazing and the best is yet to come. The brand is well positioned despite its visibility, and we only produce 0.1 percent of the world’s champagnes from just 200 acres of vineyards. It’s very well received in the market and they love what we do with gastronomy and music.
That said, there are always still things we need to work on, what’s the next interpretation of what we do? We’ve been doing Krug and a single ingredient for the last 10 years, what do we do next year? How are we going to remain exciting while carrying on doing that? You’ve been working with music for 10 years now and the collaboration with Mr. Sakamoto is the biggest one yet, are we going to do this with communities of artists? How are we going to do this differently?
We have challenges in reducing our carbon footprint and also the roadmap for crafting amazing champagne for the next generation, we need to work even closer with the wine growers. We are already demanding, but we need to be more demanding! [laughs]
Right now, champagne is considered a celebration drink, it isn’t usually paired with meals, is this the next thing for champagne? Can it be more than a celebration drink?
I’ve been having champagne with my meals since I joined the industry in 2004. I won’t pretend that there is no better wine pairing than champagne because I love my burgundy and Shiraz but I think champagne is so elegant and works well with what you’ve tasted. In France, champagne pairing with meals started 10 years ago and now we’re seeing it in the UK and some Nordic countries like Scandinavia. My objective is that we let more people know that champagne can be paired with food and not just caviar.
I particularly like Krug with my burgers. The complexity of Krug goes very well with fried foods like tempura and chicken nuggets, it goes crazy well with chips and French fries with some powdered parmigiana. You’re right, too few people outside Europe know that you can do this with champagne [laughs].
Is this going to be a future marketing objective?
Single ingredient gastronomy was a way for us to make a simple analogy with the winemaking process. Whichever Chef we partner with, we look for a single humble ingredient that you can find anywhere. This year it was rice, a few years ago it was an onion, before that it was an egg. Krug is definitely not just for celebrating but it is universal drink.
Have you thought about collaborating with Five Guys instead of a Michelin chef?
[laughs] I have never thought about that. Near the Krug family home at 5 rue Coquebert, there’s a fantastic burger place called Sacré Burger (Ed’s note: 24 Rue de Tambour). They have Krug! You should go the next time you visit Champagne! I’ve asked the team that whenever they travel the world, to find more than just the restaurants with the white gloves. I think we can find really crazy chefs at casual restaurants, I was in Atlanta at a restaurant called Atlas, it was so unexpected: T-shirts and sneakers and Krug! We are going more and more in that direction.
Krug is very sophisticated, yet very humble when you hosted us at Michelin starred Hashida for gastronomy. On the other spectrum, you have hip hop and champagne that is very bling and loud. Is this contrast of cultures that you feel Krug should avoid or embrace?
I think champagne is incredibly versatile. In night clubs and hip hop settings, you tend to need a lot of bottles and realistically, Krug doesn’t produce that many. It’s not like we’re saying no to this culture but rather, we are so small, we prefer to be in fields like gastronomy. I think Krug is best enjoyed in a place where you can share a conversation with each other.
I listen to a lot a of hip hop, especially with roots in funk, reggae and classical music. It’s an evolution of many forms and it brings a lot of emotion because of the rhythm and melody but we might not collaborate with hip hop for one critical reason – the lyrics. It tends to direct how you should feel through words and the singer’s perspectives. Krug works better with sounds and harmonies, we have tried before.
What about the works of Hans Zimmer, a more mainstream composer?
[laughs] You will have to ask Julie Cavil, she’s our artistic director. Classic music is universal but maybe next year, we won’t be working with classical music.
Music alters how plants grow. Now that you have a few Krug inspired compositions – when will you have a varietal where the vines are grown with the music played to it?
That’s a good question. We love music and though we try to push boundaries, we have to make sure that we don’t do things that are gimmicky. Viticulture is a science, so we need to research if music is an efficient tool and if so, we will use it. However, if we are only doing this as a communication tool, we will see how to execute this. Three months ago we had this conversation with the team, it’s true that music of the right frequency makes the amino acids and proteins in a plant vibrate and open up the plant to take it more water and nutrients. However, our experiments also showed that too much music, will leave the plant’s “mouth” open for too long, and it becomes dehydrated. It’s an interesting science for sure. It needs more study but we are not close to doing this large scale [laughs].
Speaking of science, climate change will affect the terroir and weather conditions, does Krug already have plans to deal with the effects or help the battle against climate change?
The first thing is that we have to make sure that we stop contributing to global warming. We are renovating many of our buildings to achieve a carbon neutral rating. At first fermentation, a lot of CO2 goes into the atmosphere and Moet Hennessy is investing 20 million euros into a research and development centre, one of the biggest topics pertains to what we are going to do with all that CO2. The other question is how we can adapt our vineyards to achieve the same aroma and elegance that we had before.
You have some solutions at the vineyard level where you can grow your plants a little higher so that you are less impacted by the reverberation of the heat from the ground. You can improve the canopy, you can also explore northern exposure vineyards, there are many options but in champagne, we are in less danger than southern vines because it is now difficult to find a Bordeaux below 14.5 degrees. In champagne, we are still able to create champagne at `12.5 degrees and so we still have some time to find a solution.
Right now, the approaches to tackling climate change are quite scientific, what are you thoughts on a communications strategy appealing to the high net worth individuals who love Krug, “climate change means we can’t make as many bottles as we used to”?
You’re right, we need to be less shy about communicating on this. That said, we are just a small champagne house and with some humility, we feel that we can’t preach to anyone. Yet, we are close to nature and we see the impact everyday, we should raise our voice and say that this matters. We have been doing many things for a long time but the truth is, we are perfectionists so we often wonder if we could have done things better and this makes us shy about communicating about it. Maybe we can be more honest and share about what we are doing, the things we have yet to do and maybe, we can inspire each other to do the same.
Finally, you’re heading up a super high end brand but at the same time, it’s so humble, how do you manage this contradiction?
We are not looking at it as luxury goods, we are just doing our jobs in the vineyards and cellar while communicating emotions. We have open doors some weekends for people to come in off the street and have a glass of Krug that they would usually not be able to afford and we talk to them just the same as we do our billionaires. This has always been the spirit of the family.
How you distinguish Krug from all other champagnes in the industry?
I won’t answer it technically because it’s a matter of taste. I would say it’s in the intention. The “why we do what we do”. 179 years ago, Krug decided to offer the most generous expression of champagne regardless of weather conditions. 250 plots’ wines from the year and 150 plots’ wines from 14 different years from the vast reserve wine library – with the art of blending taken to its peak every year, it’s the work of an architect. Krug is a very layered composition which makes it very versatile: Citrusy, florals, spices, gingerbread notes, all in one bottle. We kept true to Krug’s vision. We know who we are, we know what we need to do.