Colton's Hill

When I was working for a Japanese importer in the early 1990s, I proposed a promotion at Ginza Kitcho, and my boss, Mr. K, said, 'Champagne doesn't sell well in Japanese restaurants, so don't do it.'"
Olivier Krug


 Krug was founded in 1843 by Josef Krug from Mainz in western Germany. Born in Mainz, the wine-growing region of the Rheingau and Palatinate and famous for its Kupferberg sparkling wine, Josef was the son of a butcher. After working as a bookkeeper in Paris in the 1820s and 1830s, he took a job as an accountant at Jackson, a Champagne manufacturer in Chalons-sur-Marne. He also gained experience in Champagne blending. Joseph was fluent in German and French, as well as English and Russian, and after founding Krug, he focused on the export market.
 After Joseph's death in 1866, he was succeeded by his son Paul Krug, who established Krug's position as the premier champagne in England, the largest export market at the time. The company was then passed on to Joseph Krug II and Paul Krug II, and in the 1960s, brothers Henri and Remi Krug took over the key management of the company. Brothers Henri and Remi pushed for bold innovations in production and marketing, and in 1971 they purchased Clos du Menil, a 1.85 hectare stone-walled Chardonnay vineyard in the heart of the village of Le Menil sur Auger. 1986 saw the launch of the Krug Clos du Menil After the commercial success of 1979, the Krug brothers were convinced that Pinot Noir had similar potential, and in 1994 they purchased the 0.68 hectare vineyard Clos d'Ambonnay in the village of Ambonnay. The first vintage of Krug Clos d'Ambonnay was in 1995 and was released in 2007, 12 years after the harvest. After witnessing Clos d'Ambonnay retailing worldwide at an unbelievably high price of around 500,000 yen per bottle, other Champagne makers seemed to realize the business potential of "Clos champagnes" and, while there were only 12 "Clos" champagnes in 2001, there are now less than 40 brands in circulation. Krug began producing "Clos" Champagnes in the early 1990s.
In the early 1990s, Krug formed a business alliance with Remy Cointreau, and in 1994, Krug became a subsidiary of Remy Cointreau, but in 1999, in order to improve its cash flow in the face of poor sales of Cognac Remy Martin, Krug acquired Krug, one of the largest conglomerates in the world, In order to improve cash flow, the company sold Krug to LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton, the world's largest conglomerate and owner of luxury champagne brands such as Dom Perignon, Veuve Clicquot, and Ruinart, for 1 billion francs (20.3 billion yen at the exchange rate of the time). This change in ownership was good news for Krug, and from then on, Krug was able to develop a well-financed brand business at the top of LVMH's many champagne brands. 2009, with the retirement of brothers Henri and Remy, Henri's son, Olivier Krug, took over the reins. Olivier Krug took over as head of the company in 2009, following the retirement of Henri and Remy. From February 1990 to March 1992, he worked for Remy Japon (later known as Maxium Japan), Krug's import agent at the time, and experienced the early days of the champagne business in Japan.

Grapes and Vinification

With the exception of Clos du Menil and Clos d'Ambonnay, which are vinified from a single grape variety, Krug uses all three major Champagne varieties: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. Pinot Meunier is generally considered an inferior grape variety, a "bulking agent" grown in cold vineyards where Pinot Noir cannot fully ripen, and in fact is not blended in many prestige cuvées such as Dom Perignon and Cristal, but Krug has a "no blending" policy, which means "no blending. Krug considers it "an essential grape variety that gives Champagne its rich fruitiness.
 Krug's own vineyards account for about 30% of the 42,000 cases of annual production, with 20 hectares of vineyards in Ambonnay, Aÿe, Le Menil sur Auger, and Trépaille. The remaining 70% of the grapes are purchased under long-term contracts from 250 parcels cultivated by approximately 100 growers.
 Krug's vinification is characterized by the fact that all primary fermentation takes place in small Argonne oak barrels of 205 liters capacity on a plot-by-plot basis, while malolactic fermentation is avoided. By conducting the alcoholic fermentation in old barriques, the wines are provided with trace amounts of oxygen and depth of flavor, while avoiding excessive oak nuances. Avoiding malolactic fermentation also preserves fresh acidity and allows for long-term aging.
 After the first fermentation in small oak barrels is completed between December and January, the wine is transferred to small stainless steel containers and tasted to determine whether it will be the base wine for bottling that year or a reserve wine for the Grand Cuvée or rosé later in the year. The base wine is blended 30 weeks after harvest, and the still wine is bottled with a "preparation liqueur" of dissolved sugar and yeast, followed by a second fermentation and long sur-lat aging in the underground cellar.


  Krug currently offers six types of Champagne: Grande Cuvée, Rosé, Vintage and its late release Collection, Clos du Menil, and Clos d'Ambonnay. Like Salon, Clos du Menil, made from 100% Chardonnay, is simple with a pronounced acidity immediately after release, but after 10 years of bottle aging, it develops a complex flavor that is filled with savory flavors from the Maillard reaction, reminiscent of acacia honey on toast. It is the most beloved of all.
 My favorite is the Grande Cuvée, the lowest class, which is a blend of more than 120 different vintages from more than 10 different vintages. The Grande Cuvée is aged for at least six years on the sur laat after secondary fermentation before being shipped. Since the 2010s, Krug has started to indicate the blend number of the Grande Cuvée on the front label; the current shipment is 171ème Édition (blend #171). The six-digit iD number is printed on the back label and can be entered on Krug's website for more information about the bottle in question. 171ème Édition is a "blend based on the 2015 vintage, with a grape variety composition of 45% Pinot Noir, 37% Chardonnay, 18% Pinot Meunier, 18% Pinot Noir, 18% Pinot Meunier and 18% Chardonnay. The wine is listed as "based on the 2015 vintage, with a grape variety composition of 45% Pinot Noir, 37% Chardonnay, 18% Pinot Meunier, and degorged during the winter of 2021 and 2022". The reserve wine percentage for the Grande Cuvée is 35~50% depending on the quality of the base wine. About 6 grams of sugar per liter is added during the dosage stage, and since drinking the wine immediately after release may give the impression that the dosage is not well integrated into the wine, I let the wine age in the cellar for 5~7 years after shipping before enjoying it. The ripe citrus aromas combine with the toasty nuances from the Maillard reaction and develop into a wonderful aromatic experience.
 During a visit to Krug's headquarters in Reims at the end of September 2023, I had the opportunity to taste the 2008 Krug vintage, the harvest year of the century, and the Grande Cuvée 164ème Édition, on which the 2008 wine was based. Both are great Champagnes, but the 2008 vintage was degorged in 2020, while the 164ème Édition was oriented in 2016, so the Grande Cuvée had developed more maturity, darker color, and a more complex aroma. I usually prefer the seamless and harmonious Grande Cuvée to the powerful Krug Vintage, although it may be a little different in a great vintage like 2008. The difference in flavor between Krug Vintage and Grande Cuvée is similar to the relationship between single malt and blended Scotch whisky.

Today, Champagne is consumed in large quantities in many Japanese restaurants, such as sushi restaurants, and the promotion that Olivier Krug implemented in the early 1990s is at the origin of this trend, which shows his foresight. Like Mr. K, I thought at the time that the day would never come when Krug would be consumed in Japanese restaurants.

1) Salon Company