Maggie Henriquez – Queen of Champagne

26th May 2017


So how many chances in life, do you get to interview an icon of an industry? Well, I can say I have been lucky enough, and blessed, to have done many interviews with some industry icons for my radio show. Racing icon, Mario Andretti, multiple Grammy award-winning music icons, Dave Stewart of The Eurythmics, Drummer Jason Bonham (Led Zeppelin Jon Bonhams Super Drummer Son) and Jose Feliciano.

In the wine industry, there are a few icons who I would have loved to interview, but either was not on the radio or writing when they were around, i.e.; Robert Mondavi the father of California wine, Ernest or Julio Gallo, or Francis Ford Coppola.

Not all the titans of the wine world are men. In fact, many are women and have really made their mark on wine making and the love of the grape. One of those incredible people is Venezuelan-born Maggie Henriquez, CEO of the Krug Champagne company. She had hosted a Champagne seminar at the South Beach Wine and Food Festival that I attended. I was so impressed by her vast knowledge of wine, and of course Champagne and her true love of the product that Krug produces, I asked her for an interview, and she gave me one. Surprisingly easier than I thought.

Below, is a truncated version of our interview. She was gracious enough to give me an interview when it was 5:00 am in France her time.

Me: Thank you for getting up at such an odd hour or I’m not quite sure if you’re still up or just getting up now, either way, I’m happy to have your time.

MH: (Chuckled) Thank you for the interview. I just woke up.

Me: So then there is no likelihood that you’ve had Champagne yet. Is that right?

MH: No no, last night.

Me: You’ve been in the wine business for many years. What got you interested in it?

MH: Well my father. My father was in the wine business, always. When I was born he was already in the wine industry. So this, in a way put me in touch with it.

ME: Was it served to you as a teen?

MH: No. My father was in the wine and spirits industry and he represented many houses in the world. We always received people at home, so we were always in contact with these people. You always heard the stories and I always understood the value of wines and spirits. Because, you know you have great value, history and tradition.

Me: What is it about Champagne that you, Maggie enjoy most?

MH: Well I always loved Champagne and I loved Champagne because, good Champagne, we have to separate (chuckled) because you have the best of everything. You have this beautiful sensation of great wines and bubbles, especially when you are in contact with great Champagne. Normally bubbles have to be very fine and you have the scent of freshness, and normally I feel very light drinking Champagne. Drinking Champagne gives you enormous pleasures and at the same time its very light, and I love that.

Me: I was told, that Champagne, and wine in general, the process is very much like cooking, if you start with good ingredients and in the case of wine: good terroir, good grapes, good weather, good winemakers, you end up with good results.

MH: Yes, I agree, in fact in 1848, Joseph Krug who had founded the House of Krug in 1840. Kept a journal and wrote about the philosophy of the house. So when he was old the winemakers could have something to remind them of his philosophies about Champagne producing. He wrote that good Champagne comes from good wine and good wine comes from good terroir and elements, the elements are the parcels, the blocks. He believed you can make good Champagne with mediocre elements, but you can never rely on that because this can ruin your reputation.

Me: How do you feel Americans can be more educated on Champagne?

MH: Well it’s true in the U.S. that Champagne is not as well known. This is part of what Champagne houses need to do, we need to give information and share it. Nowadays people are interested in wine because this is a trend that everywhere in the world you see people interested in learning. Champagne houses and we all and I believe Krug has a role and an important role there, we have to make our stories interesting, Then people little by little will get to know Champagne. Because it’s a beautiful story to get to a beautiful Champagne.

Me: Are their regular auctions for some of the rare vintages of Krug?

MH: We do see in some of the large auction houses like Sothebys and Christies. Normally, its auctions mainly in Hong Kong, London and New York. You always find old bottles of Krug. Always. Mainly the Krug Vintages, but if you ever find old bottles of Krug Grand Cuvee, it’s worth buying them, because they are so great.

Me: So if one pours the Grand Cuvee for a special occasion, give me an idea of what goes into making that incredible Grand Cru.

MH: You know the founder, Joseph Krug said, “I have to give my clients every single year the very best, you know and the weather is my problem, it’s not the problem of my client.” So we blend about 120 wines of 12 different vintages, 6 years of ageing, and 1 year after disgorging before going to market, to create Grand Cuvee every year. So it’s always a recreation of a beautiful taste, which is the most generous and elegant Champagne in the world.

Me: Is there a favorite among the Krug line up that you prefer?

MH: I have to be honest, I love all the Krugs. They are all different expressions and you can discover something different in each one. Grand Cuvee is so elegant and would be my preference, but if I had to pick some vintages I like, Krug 88’, 89’, 95’ and 98’.

Me: What are the characteristics of a fine Champagne?

MH: A fine Champagne should never harm your palate. When you smell it and this is why its extremely important to know, that a great Champagne should never be drunk in flutes. Because you see the flute physically there is no space. This is the problem. So any great Champagne, before its Champagne, it’s wine and it has a second fermentation in the bottle closed. So the bubbles from the second fermentation cannot go out. This is the Champagne creation. So before any Champagne is Champagne, a good Champagne is always a good wine. Great Champagne are wines that have expression. If you put them in flutes, they will not be able to express, they will not be able to breathe. So you need a wider glass. Normally you take a white wine glass, it’s perfect. Then you pour your Champagne and never too cold. Because when Champagne is too cold, you only feel the bubbles. When anything is cold, it’s closed. If you’re cold, you’re full of coat, so nobody can see what is inside. You have to put the temperature up and you will take off the coat. So when you taste great Champagne, it should be 50-53 degrees Fahrenheit. It has to go through your palate and never be harsh anywhere in the process. The bubbles must be thin and must come towards the end, This is the great Champagne experience.

Me: Last question. By way of a miracle tomorrow, let’s say you can sit down with anyone alive or passed on and share a glass of wine with them, who would it be and why?

MH: My mother and Mahatma Gandhi because it would be an unforgettable experience.

So now go out and treat yourself to a bottle of Krug Grand Cuvee or find a vintage bottle of Krug. In my opinion, and it is the opinion of many of my fellow wine judges as well, Krug is the best Champagne you can drink.

Glass of Bubbly

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