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Krug: class in a glass

  • Story Highlights
  • The Krug family has been making Champagne near Riems for six generations
  • Krug only make prestige cuvee and the brand is known for simple elegance
  • Only the finest and rarest Chardonnay grapes are used for the Grand Cuvee
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(CNN) -- Popping corks and effervescent bubbles have symbolised success and celebration for more than 300 years.

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Krug's tiny Clos du Mensil vineyard provides conditions to grow the perfect Chardonnay grape

Fizz-fuelled Hollywood parties in the 1930s imbued the drink with glamour, but today Champagne is as much a part of popular culture as high society.

While other brands have become associated with the "bling" culture of rappers, the House of Krug continues to cultivate an image of understated elegance.

The Krug family has been making Champagne for six generations near the northern French town of Riems. It is here that Clos du Mensil, their "jewel vineyard" lies.

This tiny plot - only four and a half acres - dates back to 1698 and in Olivier Krug's opinion provides the conditions to grow the perfect Chardonnay grape.

"The microclimate will give you richness, body and the characteristics which you experience from great wine," he said.

It is entirely owned by the Krug family and was created to grow the very best quality grapes to make the finest champagne.

"What is interesting about this vineyard is that for years it used to be a sleeping beauty until my grandfather, my father and my uncle decided to make it a Krug. So they upgraded the quality of the vines, to ferment everything in casks the Krug way, to wait more time, to taste all the casks one by one and eventually pick the grapes that were the rarest in the world," Krug explained.

As wine producers, the family is at the mercy of nature but every now and then the right amount of sun, rain, warm days and cool nights will work to produce the perfect grape.

That is the time to bottle one single variety from a perfect year. Once such vintage is Clos du Mensil 1996.

One third of the grapes used to make Krug champagne are from family-owned vineyards like Clos du Mensil. The rest come from a tightly-knit group of local independent growers who supply the family with the best of their grapes.

"We have a relationship with twenty to thirty families of growers who have been supplying Krug for three to four generations. The relationship is extremely important to guarantee the consistency, the quality of the grapes we use," Krug said.

Each year, depending on the weather, the taste from the various vineyards will be slightly different.

The expertise comes in the "assemblage" or blending, which is carried out by the Krug family with the benefit of the experience of generations.

There is no secret recipe for Krug champagne, the consistency of taste and quality in each bottle comes down to the family's palate and memory.

"We were never in this format where my father and grandfather were teaching us. In fact, we were pushed to learn and discover by ourselves. I've never been told until I officially joined Krug how to make Krug. I discovered the taste myself. I made my own sensations, my own territory of images and my own vision," said Krug.

The family has a vast resource of reserve wines from past harvests which they will dip into to maintain the consistency of their Grand Cuvee.

It is this that sets Krug apart from the other 4,000 Champagnes on the market.

"Krug only makes prestige cuvee. It is a house that starts at the very, very top of what Champagne is known to be," said Krug's President and CEO, Panos Sarantopoulos, the first non-Krug to run the business.

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Looking to the future, family has employed a team of young executives who hope to bring the House of Krug forward with a combination of old-world simplicity and new generation appeal.

But for Olivier Krug all that matters is the Champagne in the bottle: "Every year we have to recreate this famous Grand Cuvee and be extremely patient, extremely modest, because nature will decide on the taste." E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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