The secret of quality Champagne

As the cellar master of Krug, Julie Cavil has one of the most revered and respected jobs in Champagne. She explains the creative process behind the flagship Grande Cuvée, how Krug evolves over time and how the 2022 vintage is shaping up.

How did it feel to become Krug’s first female cellar master?

Rather than saying I’m the first female cellar master, I’d simply say I’m the eighth cellar master in the history of the house. It’s my job to perpetuate the dream of the house’s founder, Joseph Krug, each year with a new Édition of Krug Grande Cuvée. I’ve been with Krug since 2006 and prior to becoming cellar master, I was winemaking director and a member of the tasting committee alongside former chef de cave Eric Lebel. The transition was seamless for us. I work with an immensely talented team on many projects, which keeps my job interesting. 


Krug Grande Cuvée is made from a blend of up to 120 wines from more than 10 vintages, how do you approach making a wine as complex as that?

We inherited a unique approach to Champagne creation from Joseph Krug. His dream was to craft the very best Champagne he could offer, every year, regardless of annual variations in climate. Paying close attention to a vineyard’s character, respecting the individuality of each plot and its wine, as well as building an extensive library of reserve wines from many different years allowed him to fulfil his dream.

Today, this library is home to around 150 wines, and each year I ‘audition’ some 250 wines of the year. Taking a plot-by-plot approach, I’m able to blend a new Édition of Krug Grande Cuvée and Krug Rosé every year. We achieve this complexity by cultivating the differences wherever possible, from vineyard to blending, to amplify each wine’s uniqueness and contrasts, so we can craft the most generous expression of Champagne in one bottle.


Have you made any stylistic tweaks to Krug Grande Cuvée since becoming cellar master?

It would be easy to change something – anyone could do that – whereas the true challenge is keeping Joseph Krug’s dream alive, cellar master after cellar master, and the same level of excellence blend after blend. This living legacy inspires me deeply. At Krug, there is no recipe. Each Édition of Grande Cuvée is completely new and original. Every year our inspiration is the same, but each Édition is a unique composition. Tweaking would imply a static profile, whereas every Krug Champagne is different. That being said, we base all our decisions on tastings – from the choice of the harvest date to the blend, as well as time in the cellars. Any adjustments would be a direct response to observations during tastings. 


Launching the Krug iD has made Grande Cuvée more exciting for collectors, what ageing potential does the wine have and does it get better with age?

The Édition concept, which applies to Grande Cuvée and Krug Rosé, is a great way to highlight the uniqueness of each wine. Today, Krug Lovers can taste and play with different Éditions. Thanks to the Krug iD, they can also take a deep dive into the savoir-faire of their own bottles of Krug. This gives us the opportunity to share anecdotes, tips about food and music pairings, and expert ratings.

All Krug Champagnes will gain with the passage of time. As the years go by, new facets will be accentuated under time’s influence. Then it becomes a matter of personal taste – whether you prefer older Champagnes, but with the backbone of freshness that characterises all Krug Champagnes. With any bottle of Krug, you will always have the long, vibrant finish, which makes it age so beautifully over the decades. Time is not a constraint but an integral component of the Krug creation equation.


You have been gradually holding more bottles back of Krug Grande Cuvée each year, is this with the view to releasing the aged stocks at a later date?

We do so to offer Krug lovers a chance to explore the influence of time on our Champagnes in different ways. You can see this, for example, with A Tribute to Time, where we present two Éditions of Krug Grande Cuvée crafted ten years apart alongside one another. It is a way to shine a light on the precious influence of time on Krug and to follow the evolution of a specific Édition. 


With your vintage wines, do you like them to display the signature Krug taste, or is it more important to reflect the characteristics of the year?

Krug vintage is the story of a distinctive year, interpreted by the house. The Krug style is the sum of all the choices we make during the creative process. A Krug vintage is more of a free interpretation. Each time I decide to craft a new vintage, it’s with the idea of telling the story of what happened in the tasting room after the harvest: what amazed us, surprised us and enchanted us.


How would you describe Krug’s signature style?

Krug Grande Cuvée is generous expression of Champagne with a fullness of flavours and aromas in which everyone can find something to stir their emotions. The delicious ripeness of the fruit enchants the nose and the lightness of the lemony notes on the palate delights the mouth, while the precise, contoured finish prepares the tastebuds for the next sip. It takes over 20 years to craft a new Édition of Grande Cuvée – a blend of over 120 wines from more than 10 different years – combining fresh fruit from the harvest with dried and candied fruit with the patina of time from our reserve wine library.


You’re a fan of precision viticulture, what are your latest developments on that front?

Everything we do, dream, imagine or develop is to strengthen our knowledge of the plots we work with, defining the characteristics of each through observations, decisions and tastings, as we see how it can contribute to our different compositions and how we may leverage its potential of expression. From the work done in the vineyard to the composition of the final blend, we discuss everything among the Tasting Committee so that we may all grow together and pass down our knowledge to the next generation. If you’re interested in delving deeper, the Krug Black Book is our made-to-measure tasting app that consolidates our notes, observations and knowledge. 


Which older vintages of Krug are drinking really well right now?

Depending on a collector’s tastes and preferences, they may wish to discover older Éditions of Grande Cuvée, Krug vintages or Krug Collection to appreciate the influence of time on these blends. Using the Krug iD, they can discover the unique story of each bottle. As a creator I feel that each story is unique and equally precious. And since the longevity of all Krug Champagnes is nearly infinite when stored in good conditions, to me they are all excellent candidates.


What makes Clos du Mesnil and Clos d’Ambonnay so special?

Our clos are situated in renowned locations for Chardonnay and Pinot Noir respectively and, protected by walls for centuries, they benefit from unique microclimates to which their style can be partially attributed. These tiny village vineyards are the purest expression of a single grape, from a single plot, and a specific harvest year. Clos du Mesnil and Clos d’Ambonnay epitomise Joseph Krug’s plot-by-plot approach to Champagne creation.


What is the most challenging part of your job as cellar master?

Unsurprisingly, but without a doubt, it’s to re-create the dream of Joseph Krug every single year, regardless of variations in climate. It’s my biggest challenge but also my greatest joy and pride because each time my team and I give birth to a new Édition of Krug Grande Cuvée, it’s with the idea of paying tribute to Champagne, to the vastness of its terroirs and the diversity of its winegrowers.


How is the 2022 vintage shaping up so far – are you happy with the result?

The 2022 harvest was the longest I’ve seen since I joined Krug sixteen years ago, but it was also the most joyful. It began on 24 August and ended on 14 September. From North to South, and East to West, all grapes revealed themselves beautifully, regardless the cru or variety. It was like the planets were aligned. That’s being said, we can’t forget that 2022 was a year of extremes, including heat and drought that left their mark on the fruit. We now need time to observe, listen and taste. Only tastings and time will reveal the profiles of the wines that will be born from the 2022 harvest.


Have the increasingly extreme weather events, from heat spikes to spring frosts, meant you’ve had to tweak your winemaking approach in order to retain Krug’s character and consistency?

While everyone must adapt to the realities of climate change as we continue our efforts to minimize our carbon footprint, extreme weather events are a reality. Sometimes they affect the aromatic profile of the fruit, sometimes they destroy grapes before they can be harvested. This is why we have 150 wines in our reserve wine library, so even if a year has a low yield, we can still create Krug Grande Cuvée. If the wines of the year are lacking in freshness, I’ll look to wines from previous fresh years to balance the blend.


What are you up to at the moment and what’s in store for 2023?

Over the next few months my team and I will taste and appraise the 299 individual wines from the 2022 vintage, recording around 4,000 tasting notes before making any decisions about the final blends in April. I’m looking forward to our new winery opening at Clos d’Ambonnay this year. Four years in the making, it’s a project that aims to pass down to future generations the best conditions for the excellence of our wines, both for those who create them and for the environment. 

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