Leading figures from the wine industry have hailed Henri Krug as a "real Champenois," who "symbolized the best of the old traditions of Champagne." While a modest man, he was considered to be a figure of great presence who was a highly effective ambassador for Champagne.
It has been revealed that Henri, who had been suffering from cancer, died last Thursday, but the news was kept under wraps to allow the family to grieve in private.
Henri Krug joined the family business in September 1962, and when his father, Paul, retired in 1977 he became president and winemaker. According to a statement from Krug, Henri's brother Rémi "traveled the world to conquer markets, while Henri watched over the cellars and took enormous pleasure from welcoming visitors... Together they were an inspirational and unique duo."
The statement describes Henri as "a visionary," who sent his son Olivier to open up new markets in Japan at the start of the 1990s. Japan has since become the most important market for Krug's wines.
Wine-Searcher's correspondent in Champagne, Caroline Henry, recalls that when she interviewed Olivier in December he spoke of his father with great fondness. Olivier described Henri as a real family man who had been close to his grandparents and considered his brother, Rémi, to be his best friend.
Ghislain de Montgolfier, the president of Bollinger and of the Union des Maisons de Champagne, knew Henri well, "as a colleague, a competitor and a friend."
"We generally tend to say wonderful things about our colleagues, but in the case of Henri this could not be more true," said de Montgolfier. "He was a good guy, who did a lot for the Champagne industry; he had great presence and did not need many words."
De Montgolfier recalled that because Krug and Bollinger are competitors, "often we used to have small discussions and even confrontations. However, I remember one instance when a Belgian journalist had written that Bollinger was the Krug of the poor. Henri was shocked. He did not like the comparison at all, in fact he was shocked that two great Champagnes had been reduced to money."
When Henri visited Bollinger "not that long ago, we had a wonderful time. We really enjoyed comparing technical notes and had a wonderful discussion on the way Krug and Bollinger clean their barrels.
Jean-Philippe Moulin, director and chef de cave at Champagne Goerg, became friends with Henri when Moulin set up a research center at the CIVC – a project that Henri was also involved in.
According to Moulin: "Henri was a very precise and meticulous person, a real perfectionist, and also an innovator. It was he who decided to go down the single vineyard route and make a rosé. He also was a great ambassador and a communicator for the Champagne region in the '80s and '90s and a lover of excellent Champagne."
Francois Bertrand, a guide and sommelier at Krug, also emphasized the spirit of change that marked the era when Henri and his brother Rémi were in charge of the Champagne house.
"[They] were very close and innovative," said Bertrand. "Many changes in the house came from them: the use of stainless steel for reserve wines in the '70s, the creation of the rosé, the Clos du Mesnil, the Clos d'Ambonnay, the creation of the actual bottle design, the name Grande Cuvée itself."
Australian Tyson Stelzer, who won the 2011 Louis Roederer International Champagne Writer of the Year award, paid tribute to Krug: "Such was the visionary daring of Henri Krug that when his father opposed the creation of a pink wine, he secretly produced a trial rosé with his brother Rémi. On pouring it blind for their father in 1976, he exclaimed, ‘It is finished for us because someone in Champagne has copied Krug!'”
Stelzer added: "It was Henri who purchased Clos du Mesnil and Henri who convinced his father to release it as the first single vineyard wine of Krug. For all he has achieved, it was Henri’s unassuming humility and gracious welcome that most struck me when I first met him in 2001. His place in the House of Krug and in Champagne will forever be treasured and remembered by many around the world."
Serena Sutcliffe MW, worldwide head of wine for auction house Sotheby's, most recently oversaw a sale of Krug rarities that came direct from the headquarters of the Champagne house in Reims.
“Henri Krug was a man of great integrity, with a profound knowledge of the Champagne region and its wines," said Sutcliffe. "He never compromised on quality and knew exactly how to construct, and protect, the taste of Krug. It was always a fascinating experience to be with him at the time of blending, when he questioned and challenged each element of the ‘assemblage’."
Sutcliffe added: "One of my favorite personal memories is of drinking Krug [from] his birth year with him at our home, and watching a smile slowly spread over his face!”
Simon Berry, chairman of Britain's oldest wine merchant Berry Bros. & Rudd, believes that “Henri symbolized the best of the old traditions of Champagne. Unfailingly kind, dignified and courteous, he realized the importance of the family in the success of a brand."
Berry pointed out that "there are no Bollingers left in the trade, no Moëts or Clicquots, Lansons or Mumms. But thanks to Henri, his brother Rémi and his son Olivier – and despite the House being taken over by huge corporations in recent decades – Henri kept the family involved and their principals of quality as part of the DNA of Krug.”
Henri's funeral was held on Monday. It is to be followed by a memorial service in Reims on Saturday that will be open to the public.