On this episode of “Next Round,” host Adam Teeter chats with Maggie Henríquez, president and CEO of Krug, about the pioneering Champagne house. Henríquez details the brand’s robust history and why it is influential among the trade in the wine world. She also explains how Krug collaborates with other houses. In addition, listeners will learn of Henríquez’s day-to-day schedule in her role as president and CEO, which is nothing short of busy.
Henríquez gives her two cents about what luxury means in the wine world, explaining that luxury is about disruption, change, and furthering an experience. Finally, Henríquez gives listeners tips on how to advance their careers in the alcohol industry.
Tune in and visit https://www.krug.com/ to learn more.
Or Check Out the Conversation Here
Adam Teeter: From VinePair’s New York City headquarters, I’m Adam Teeter, and this is a “Next Round” conversation. We’re bringing you these conversations in between our regular podcast episodes to give you a better picture of what’s going on in the alcohol beverage world. Today, I’m very lucky to be speaking with Maggie Henríquez, the CEO and president of Krug Champagne. Maggie, thank you so much for joining me.
Maggie Henríquez: Thank you very much for inviting me. Pleasure.
A: Oh, it’s a pleasure to have you. Obviously, a lot of people who listen to the podcast are very familiar with Krug. It’s probably the brand in the world of wine in general that is the most known, especially among the trade. And I want to get into why you think that is in a little bit. Before we chat about Krug, I’d love to talk about you. Can you just give me a brief rundown of your background and how you got into this industry in the first place?
M: Well, I would say I’ve been in this industry all my life because my father was already in wines and spirits. I started as a system engineer in my career in 1978, but it was with cosmetics and perfumes. Then, I moved into wine and spirits with systems in 1982. Since 1982, I have been working with wines and spirits. In 1986, I moved into the commercial market, including the operations. Since then, with the exception of the years from 1995 to 2001, I was the president of Nabisco in Mexico. I went alone to Mexico with my two kids. I had just got divorced and because I was alone, I wanted to do something I could share with the kids. They were 15 and 11, and this is it. This piece of my life where I went into food, and then I went back into wines and spirits. Out of my 43 years working, 32 have been in wines and spirits.
A: Amazing. When did you become president and CEO of Krug?
M: I joined this group, LVMH Krug, in the wine and spirits division in 2001. Then, I went to Argentina. This is the time that I passed in the ‘80s. I was very much connected with wine and spirits, especially wine on the tasting side and the commercial and tasting side. I was very much a spirits person from the beginning of my career. It was in Argentina in 2001 where I got very connected to the vineyards and wine-growing, the production, and the whole process. After being in Argentina when the work was well done, and the group was happy, at the end of 2008, the president then, Christophe Navarre, invited me to come work with Krug. I arrived at Krug in January 2009.
A: OK, so since 2009, you’ve been the CEO and president correct?
A: When we look at Krug as a brand, it’s a brand that is more beloved and well known than almost any other wine brand in the world, especially amongst the trade. As someone with so much experience in the industry, why do you think that is? What is it about Krug that makes it so beloved and revered among this influential group of people in the wine world?
M: I think there are brands that are more known such as Dom Pérignon and Moët. They have strong runs. It is true that Krug has enormous respect from the trade. I believe that this is connected to the fact that historically, Krug, through generations, has always been very high quality, very prestigious. I think that the fact that we really changed the way we communicated from early on. In 2011, we put in every bottle of Krug the story of the bottle, transparency, openness, and giving the people information that allowed them to discover and connect with the Champagne. This had helped the house enormously. We are already very respectful, but in addition to that, they got all the information, and so they felt very respected. I think this decision and this amazing historical reputation combine itself with openness, transparency, and giving people a sense of respect and importance. This is what finally puts this house in the mind of all these friends in very high positions because it is true that the house has an approach that is unique in Champagne. It is also true that it is a house that was founded with this obsession of very high quality. When you see ratings, people evaluate Krug very highly. I think this combination of love and respect and a house that goes back to its origins of connecting. We are a house that is very discreet about emotional belonging and emotional connection. We’ve been building these links back with our friends. All of this together puts the house very high in the mind of our friends.
A: You talked a little bit about the unique positioning that Krug has in the world of Champagne. For those that aren’t familiar with that positioning, can you explain to the listeners what you think it is that really makes Krug stand out as such a different Champagne from a lot of very highly respected cuvées, whether they’re Dom Pérignon or Billecart? What is it about Krug that is so unique?
M: This is interesting because this really links us back to the origin of the house, to the foundation. It is this man named Joseph Krug, who arrived in Champagne in 1834. We have to think that 1834 is already 110 years after the first house of Champagne was founded. You have an industry that is well settled, and this man is from abroad. He came from Mainz in Germany but when he was born in the 1800s in France, he lost his nationality to the Prussians, and he always wanted to become French again. He arrived in Champagne, France in 1864 and he started working with one of two major houses of Champagne. Those days, the two major houses of Champagne were Moët and Jacquesson. He was working at Jacquesson, and it was his dream to work in Champagne. At that time, they had the greatest wine in the world, so he came to work at Jacquesson, and he discovered the industry. He discovered the practices, and it was a well-settled industry. This is when he realizes that normally every house makes a light, easy-to-drink, no-complexity Champagne. Now, in some good climatic years, they make a vintage. Historically, better Champagne was a vintage, because a vintage was always a selection of better wine to make them interesting. This is the way Champagne manages in general. Then this guy said, “Why do we have to wait for a good year to make great Champagne? I would like to make the best Champagne I can offer to my clients every year.” He decided to have a different approach to Champagne. This is how the House of Krug started, with the philosophy of following every plot in Champagne. You have 275,000 plots in 30,000 hectares, so normally, people don’t go and try to understand every little plot as one wine. The house has since the beginning. You might have a good climate or a bad climate. When you have a bad climate, you have very dangerous behavior from the soil so he said, “You have to go element by element, plot by plot.” How do we know this? Well, he left everything written down because he knew he was doing something unique and different. In 1848, he left everything written to his son because his son was 6 years old when he was 48. He was afraid that he would die, and his principles wouldn’t be perpetrated. So, he wrote very clearly the importance of following every element by element, every plot as one wine, and only those that were at the level it should be. He said very clearly, “You can make Champagne by using regular, old, or even mediocre elements, but these are exceptions on which you can never rely or you may damage the operation or lose our reputation.” He was very clear on this. Then, he says a good house should create only two Champagnes of the same composition, which means at the same point. He has this different approach because he has a different dream. He wants to create something that didn’t exist, and this is programmed to it. His idea was every year we’re going to make a tribute to Champagne to illustrate the diversity of this region, so we use the three grape varieties. We go all over the region of Champagne where there is a good terroir, and we transform that terroir into wine. We can follow it block by block, follow it year by year. This is the idea of this man who said, “I cannot create a good climate every year, but I can build a library. I can build a library with many colors of many different years of these individual wines related to a very individual plot.” He also said, “We build the library, and I will be able to receive what nature gives me every year and I will go look for the missing colors to recreate the multi-color Champagne.” This is what Krug creates, which is really the most original Champagne of a house. It is something that doesn’t exist outside the house. Why Krug is very unique is because it has a unique approach. This man had a different objective than the rest of Champagne. Do you add to that? Of course, as time passes, you learn more, you understand better. You have more tools to do what you need. Finally, you evolve, but the beauty of the house is you can say this is the house where everything is changed and nothing has changed. We follow the principles of what makes this house what it is. It’s a house where we don’t filter, we don’t do treatment. The house is almost zero-intervention. All of this is fate because it has an approach that is very unique and totally oriented to these obsessions.
A: Amazing. With so many accolades that the Champagne has received, have you seen it influence other houses, other Champagnes in the region? In the world of wine and spirits, the experience that you have is that usually, when brands are as successful as Krug — I don’t want to call them copycats — but there are people who take what that brand is doing and try to replicate it in some way because the brand is seeing such success. Have you seen that in your career with Krug?
M: Yes, it’s very interesting because at the beginning when I arrived, the house used to talk for six years about the oak barrels. The oak barrels are really tools, not more, and talking about the oak barrels is similar to going to a restaurant and the chef comes out and you want to congratulate the chef for the good food. You say that your food was fabulous and he answers, “Well, I cooked a small casserole. Who cares?” We used to talk about oak barrels, and people thought it was just about that, but we never talked about the why. The reason we use oak barrels is that we needed containers to be able to isolate every product as one wine. And this is the major issue. With time, we started to talk correctly about the house. This has been only in the last 10 years, so it’s been very short. We had the growers, we tried to help them technically also in their Champagnes, and because we became totally transparent, we invited many Champagne makers. They come to the house, they ask all the questions they want, and we answer them. We really like to do as much as we can because we go everywhere in Champagne and we followed from the beginning every plot by plot. We have a system that now is digitalized, so we really follow the plot, and every year we follow it. We are now studying the soil, and we want to really get all this information about the terroir and the connection with what you expect in wine. We want to give this information to the whole Champagne world. We don’t want to keep this for ourselves. Whatever we can do to help the whole region go further, we will do it. I believe the houses that were initially using the oak barrels, today are more oriented to the fact that smaller batches are important to assure quality. Even I remember when I saw the new facilities of Moët & Chandon, and they said, “We are observing and we are following Krug, because they do things in smaller proportions.” This allows you to be closer to the beauty of one plot or the beautiful few plots in the case of the Champagne approach. When I discovered Krug, which was 30 years ago, for the first time when I was in this tasting with the brewers. Brewers came to the house, and they saw the results of their work. This lady had three plots and the three plots had glasses, three wines. The first two were marvelous. The third was over-ripened. The cellar master told her, “You see, madam, I have the intuition. You picked the grapes on the same day because the first two are beautiful. I have already told you many times that this little plot is very exposed to the sun, and it has to be picked four days before.” In the end, he said, “Well, madam, I’m so sorry for this little plot we love so much. We have to leave the house.” That means we pay for it, but we never use it. Then, you find this little book of the founder that says exactly that. When you are not at the level, you don’t use it. It’s a very, very protected house. Craftsmanship without compromise. I believe that this is what people feel when they taste the Champagnes of the house.
A: Amazing. So let’s step a little bit away from Krug and more to you. For those that are curious, me being one of them, what does a day in your life or your role look like as president and CEO of Krug? Obviously, you take time to speak with people like me and to really promote the house. But can you give us a picture of what your job really entails as the president and CEO?
M: It is difficult because it is a crowded day. It is true, I like to do a lot of training, so I work a lot with schools and universities. I do a lot of conferences for masters. I work a lot in luxury brand building because I’m fascinated by the concept because luxury is being badly used. When you talk about luxury, what is luxury? Luxury is that light that we like to pass for others. You see these people who find new ways of doing things to get further. I have been fascinated by the whole understanding of what luxury is, how you build it, the level of time you need, the coherence you need, and the strong commitment that you must have. I do a lot of training on this matter. I also train in Champagne and I do training in wines. I do lots of training with universities and also for the house. I am an ambassador of the house of Krug, of course. Then, I work a lot in communications with the region. I have my group of women and we have a very diverse group. I really like to do this because I believe a lot in collective actions. I also do a lot of working with the teams to make sure that the vision is always clear and that all decisions we make are all aligned to the vision. You need to keep the vision alive all the time. Finally, there is one group that also we have to put into LVMH. There is a lot of internal work and also in connecting with the group and the division. Combining that, the day starts very early and ends very late, but I really love what I do, so I am happy.
A: It sounds like an amazing day and really interesting and exciting.
M: I play sports, too, so that is something I also do.
A: You have some things outside of work, which is great.
A: Like you, I am fascinated by marketing and luxury branding. I think that there are so many amazing things that you can do when you’re able to build a luxury product. When I talk to people in the industry, my opinion is always that LVMH, more than any other company in the beverage space, whether it’s spirits or the wine divisions, does the best job at creating luxury brands. I’m curious about your opinion. Obviously, we know Champagne as being the biggest luxury area of the world of wine. But if you were to look at one other skew, whether that be rosé, Bordeaux, etc., what do you think is the most likely to be the next luxury group? Is it rosé? Is it going to be Whispering Angel and things like that that will be able to achieve luxury?
M: Probably one day. Honestly, it’s why I did my thesis because I ended my Ph.D. last year. My thesis was about wines and luxury. Specifically, why the luxury series does not apply and explain what luxury wines are. The truth is that many years ago, high-end Champagne was a high-end priced wine, but this is not the case today. Today, the wine has gone further in value. You have these wines like Burgundy where the prices are impressive. The world of wine has been transformed during these last 40 years because of the enduring of the New World. The New World facilitated the connection with the consumer and consumers got interested in wine. Then, they go for the high end. This puts pressure on the wines because these are small domaines, and there’s no way you can expand so the prices of wine have gone really, really up. I think there is a little bit of the fact that Champagne is still linked with celebration. We try not to be that, but it’s a reality. The fact that you are relating to celebration puts the Champagne secondary to the celebration. Do you see the difference?
M: In the case of wine, wine can be at the center of an encounter. Wine, 40 years ago, was considered masculine and it was about wine accompanying food into a total experience. Now, it is mostly feminine. I think there is a way for Champagne to continue to build on this luxury. Today, there are some wines that I would say are not built because none of the wine and spirits we can say that we control the whole value chain, which is something fundamental to build a luxury brand. However, this is a theory and I ended my thesis with a chapter dedicated to what should be the principles in building a luxury brand in wine. The truth is, the first luxury brand in the world was a wine. It was in 1521: Haut-Brion. It was the first ever because it was the first to completely change the profile of the wines. Luxury is about disruption. It is about changing. It’s about bringing something that nobody is expecting, but it takes you further as an experience. It’s true that in the world of wines today, you have some houses that are really strongly placed, very high for the consumers. In Champagne, we are strong as brands, but I think we can move further.
A: Wow. OK, cool, that’s amazing.
M: We have to take it away from just celebration. This is why we invite people to really enjoy Champagne differently. In a white wine glass, don’t use flutes. Flutes are just a symbol, but it is not going to allow you to enjoy the Champagne. Champagne, before anything, is a wine. Champagne, before anything, is about good wine so why would you put good wines in flutes? We invite people to enjoy Champagne differently. It is there to accompany food because it’s really elegant and so respectful. Good Champagne is there to accompany this strong experience, but this is all really the beginning. Eight years ago, we invited musicians to create sensations in music. You can find the Krug iDs through Google or an application. You can download it for nothing from Apple, and you can get all the different music that has been either produced or searched to go with every one of our Champagnes. You can have all these gastronomic proposals to go with the Champagne at the same time. For example, when to use a white wine glass or red wine glass. It is there to not complicate yourself and also not too cool because if it’s too cold, you don’t feel anything. This is still something I say in this way. Champagne still needs to be discovered more as what it is, and locations have to be amplified for Champagne to be really valued for what it is.
A: It makes a lot of sense. One last question for you. We have a lot of listeners to the podcast who obviously work in the world of wine, beer, and spirits. They’re making their careers — whether they’re currently on the floor or they’re on the brand side, the marketing side, etc. You have had such an impressive career. I’m curious, what advice would you have for a young person listening to this podcast who says, “I would love to be where Maggie is at the end of my career. I’d love to get there.” What would be your advice for what they should be doing, and what they should be thinking about in order to achieve the success that you have?
M: Thank you so much. I always doubt because there are no formulas, but there are some principles that I think are important. The first is to never, never stop studying. We have to continue to research. We live in the area of information. There’s so much information out there. Let’s never think we know. I always like this message. It was in 2016 and a friend said, “I want to give you a gift. I play tennis and one day I discovered I was in front of Federer, and this is the story I want to tell you. I realized that I love the feeling I had, and why? Because I realized I was in front of excellence. Federer in tennis is excellent, and in front of excellence, you have nothing else to do but to question yourself.” I love this because I think this is such a strong message. You can always bring excellence in front of you. What I propose is for people to fight for their beliefs. Don’t get complacent with what you receive if what you receive is not what you think you need. Fight for what you think you need and do not be afraid of bringing in new things. Test new things and test new experiences. I think this is fundamental because the world will be for those who find new ways of doing things. For example, if you do things like the others, you’re just doing things like the others. You are not bringing anything new to the table. If people want to really go further, there’s a lot of work, a lot of learning, and a lot of humbleness. Be humble and work with people. Be close to people. Also, hierarchies should not exist. Hierarchies aren’t there for you to make decisions, nothing is. Listen, because you can find so much information from so many people at all different levels. Be able to listen twice and talk once. And especially, fight for your beliefs and never negotiate your values.
A: I love that. I love the pieces you dropped, especially about trying to get in front of excellence to continue to challenge yourself. Also, this idea that hierarchy is only for decision-making, but nothing else, and across the board that it’s collaborative. I think that is really important for the development of careers. Maggie, this has been an amazing conversation. Thank you so much for talking to me about your career and about Krug. It’s been just lovely having you on the podcast, and I really appreciate your time.
M: Thank you very much.
Thanks so much for listening to the “VinePair Podcast.” If you love this show as much as we love making it, then please give us a rating or review on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher, or wherever it is you get your podcasts. It really helps everyone else discover the show.
Now for the credits, VinePair is produced and recorded in New York City and in Seattle, Wash., by myself and Zach Geballe, who does all the editing and loves to get the credit. Also, I would love to give a special shout-out to my VinePair co-founder, Josh Malin, for helping make all this possible and also to Keith Beavers, VinePair’s tastings director who is additionally a producer on the show. I also want to, of course, thank every other member of the VinePair team who are instrumental in all of the ideas that go into making the show every week. Thanks so much for listening, and we’ll see you again.
Ed. note: This episode has been edited for length and clarity.