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Krug launches 'most challenging' 2003 vintage

Speaking to Decanter.com ahead of the official launch of Krug 2003 in London, director Olivier Krug and Chef de Caves Eric Lebel describe the deliberations in choosing to declare the vintage and the intricate tasting process involved.

Krug Eric Lebel Olviier Krug 2003
Krug Eric Lebel Olviier Krug 2003 Krug 2003

Krug Chef de Caves Eric Lebel and Olivier Krug, Krug Vintage 2003

Several UK merchants have already sold out of Krug 2003, but a decision to produce the vintage was not clear-cut.

‘No one was expecting us to release the 2003 in Champagne’, Krug declared unsurprisingly. ‘In my 26 years at Krug, 2003 is by far the most, if not exciting, the most challenging vintage.’

With 2003 marked by early flowering, April frost, extreme heat and the earliest harvest since 1822, there has been ample internal debate as to whether it should feature in Krug's vintage line-up. 

'That was really a debate that went forward and back for a little while’, said Lebel, who added that Krug's priority is always to secure enough quality grapes for its Grande Cuvee, before making a call on a vintage release. The 2003 small harvest, together with low acidity levels not seen since 1952, ‘scared a lot of Champagne producers’, Lebel said.

He described creating Krug '03, which the house has priced at £230-a-bottle, as an 'exciting intellectual challenge'. The result is 'one of the most beautiful examples of this idea of a vintage expressing the specific qualities of a year', he argued.

‘It was a disparate year; there were a lot of different expressions coming through’ he said. Krug vinifies grapes from individual plots of vineyard, which can give it 120 wines per vintage with which to create a final blend.

In 2003, weather conditions meant many Chardonnay grapes were under ripe, leaving an uncharacteristically high proportion of red grapes.

‘The 2003 has significantly less Chardonnay grapes (25%) than we would have in other Krug Vintages,' said Lebel. 'But, surprisingly we used a hefty amount of Meunier (25% and the highest proportion permitted in a vintage Champagne), which gives a lot of freshness. Then the Pinot Noir gives balance.'

On the palate there’s ‘lots of fruit, honey, citrus fruits and grapefruit, with a backbone of freshness which is so symbolic of Krug’, Lebel said.

There are six people at the heart of the Krug tasting team, a 50/50 split of men and women that includes CEO Maggie Henriquez and Olivier, ‘when he’s not flying around the world’. Tastings are held at 11am, 'when your taste buds are more open', instead of in ther afternoon previously, and samples are limited to 15 to prevent burn-out.

Olivier Krug put the '03 in context, highlighting that it is no more than 10% of Krug volumes, which are in any case is 0.1% of Champagne. 'It’s not something we’re pushing, but something we’re using to illustrate the story.

‘We are still keeping the 2000 on the market, like we sold the 2000 next to 1998,' he said, adding that this encourages people to compare vintages, not in quality terms but in terms of stylistic differences.

For the first time on a vintage release, Krug will sell its '03 in six-bottle cases alongside Grande Cuvee created the same year. Retail stockists in the UK are Selfridges, Harrods and Majestic.

Read the news story: Krug 2003 vintage sells out in hours, say merchants

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