When people say that a Champagne has notes, they are usually referring to the wine’s aromas or subtle flavors. But in the case of Krug 2008, those notes are bright piano flourishes, which introduce a subtly restrained jazz-inflected melody that slowly builds into a symphonic swirl.
Krug, the storied Champagne house known for its austere and refined wines, recently debuted an original three-movement symphony “Suite for Krug in 2008”, which they commissioned from award-winning Japanese composer Ryuichi Sakamoto. Sakamoto, who won an Oscar, a Golden Globe and a Grammy for his original music for “The Last Emperor” (1987), has a prolific 40-year career with composing credits in films and shows ranging from “The Revenant” to a 2019 episode of “Black Mirror.”
Sakamoto’s symphony, inspired by three specific Krug bottlings (2008 Krug Clos du Mesnil, Krug 2008, and 2008 Krug Grand Cuvee 164th edition) debuted with a live performance at the Brooklyn Museum, held on Tues., Sept. 20. The global event united a French brand, a Japanese composer, and a glitzy New York crowd for a premiere performance that won’t be repeated (but will live on, on Krug’s website as well as on Spotify.)
The well-dressed crowd, which included model Karen Elson in a head-turning red velvet gown, pianist Chloe Flower, playwright Jeremy O. Harris, and actor Paul Rudd, sipped chilled Krug in the museum, in a room surrounded by monitors showing Ryuichi composing intercut with glossy close-ups of the golden wine. Guests were greeted by Krug president Manuel Reman, Maison Director Olivier Krug and Krug cellar master Julie Cavil. (Sakamoto, who is undergoing cancer treatments in Japan, was unable to attend in person but taped a video greeting. He personally hand-picked the musicians who performed that evening.)
“Music is an outstanding way to explain our craftsmanship,” Maison Krug director Olivier Krug told his guests before the performance. “When we talk to [Krug cellar master] Julie Cavil, she likes to compare her role as akin to a musical conductor. Julie likes to make analogies between the plots of wine and a musician. She will audition hundreds of different musicians in order to select those that she wishes to have on stage. Over the time, we have developed an approach, which is very unique to the maison Krug that we call music pairing.”
The project took shape over three years, when Krug executives asked Sakamoto, who was then living in New York City, to translate Krug’s complexity into music, to “see sound and hear Krug.” Over the next months, Sakamoto (and later, his team) traveled to Krug’s vineyards and cellars in Reims, France to learn about wine-making and capture the sounds of Krug.
“Why 2008? 2008 is the current news at Krug,” Olivier Krug said. “What was Krug in 2008? An outstanding vintage, one where you have the largest smiles for all the winemakers and growers. A vintage that ticked all the boxes for quality.”
The vintage promised “finesse, elegance, persistence and charisma,” Krug said. The vintage also offered up what chief winemaker Cavil considered “a soloist.”
“A soloist is a Champagne, that in a way, is the easiest one to make,” Krug explained. “Because it’s one type of grape, one plot, one year. It’s the purest expression of Champagne.” This soloist is the 2008 Krug Clos du Mesnil, one of the wine world’s most sought-after and collected bottlings.
Expanding the metaphor, Cavil cultivated a selection of different plots and grapes (all from the 2008 harvest) that would play the part of a small ensemble; this became the Krug 2008 vintage. Krug also produces a Grande Cuvee, which is a blended wine, mixing new and aged wines for a complex final product. The Grande Cuvee 164th Edition is a blend of 127 wines, with the oldest from 1990 and the youngest from 2008.
While the symphony project feels modern, it has links that stretch back centuries. “Krug was the dream of my great-great-great grandfather, Joseph,” Krug said. “His dream, 180 years ago, was to create a Champagne that would not only offer the very best quality every year but the richest, fullest, most generous expression of champagne. He was obsessed with the idea that champagne is about pleasure.”
Krug, the sixth-generation family member to run the maison, goes on: “[Joseph Krug] wanted to bring Champagne lovers the best expression of pleasure in one glass. What is the best kind of pleasure? Music. Music for us is a universal language. It is easy to talk about music. Everyone can get the sensation of music, without being a musician.”