On the Trail

A New Era of Champagne Transparency

Gary Westby

Last year, I met with Olivier Krug in San Francisco to discuss the launch of a bold new initiative from his venerable house: the addition of edition numbers on the front label of the Grand Cuvée to designate origin. The very first general release featuring this designation just arrived in the store; the brand's 163rd edition. From this point on, every customer will be able to tell which batch of Krug they have by simply looking at the number. This is a big breakthrough for what has always been Champagne's most secretive house and I'm hoping it's a trend that will catch on with other producers. To be clear, Krug had already started using ID codes on the back of all of their bottles, each of which could be searched on Krug’s website, or by using their mobile app (my colleague Alex touched on this in a previous post). Using those codes, one could look up exactly what was in their non-vintage wine. Adding the editions on the front takes this transparency one step further, and you can now learn the youngest wine in the blend (commonly referred to as the base year by the Champenois when discussing non-vintage wines) by adding 1844 to the edition number. 

Olivier was his usual animated, fun-loving, heavy-pouring self, and it was great to catch up with him. I am so happy that Krug has started sharing this information with the wine lover, and I am not concerned in the least that competitors will copy their formula. It is just too hard to do what they do, and takes too long to save up the kind of treasure trove of reserves that they have amassed over the last couple of hundred years. In sharing this information with the consumer, it allows us to have a real conversation about non-vintage Champagne and the fact that—while the label may stay the same—the wines do change from batch to batch. The 163rd edition, for example, is based on the 2007 vintage and composed of 37% Pinot Noir, 32% Chardonnay and 31% Meunier. The cuvée itself is assembled from twelve different vintages spanning seventeen years; the oldest in this blend is from 1990. The wine was kept over eight years on the lees before disgorgement, whereas most high-end labels are around three years. The code on the back the label will still be there to provide the season and year of disgorgement along with all the facts on the wine. While I suspect that the new edition designation will help consumers distinguish their favorite batches, I think the most practical use for the editions is in the cellar. Many of us Krug lovers like to rotate stock and we buy our Grand Cuvée for consumption a few years down the road. Having the edition on the front will make this much easier (no more felt tip marker marred bottles marked “purchased 1/24/17” in my cellar!).

Krug has also released some of their own reserves in Edition packs, and as some of you may be aware, we have had tiny amounts of the 160, 161, and 162 for sale. These came from “Krug Editions” six packs that were released before the 163 premiered. Check the website—we might even have some now!

-Gary Westby