As you can easily imagine, I was tickled when an expat princess - or some sort of Germanic royalty, for that matter - phoned me up recently and asked if I would like to meet the head of Champagne uberpowerhouse Krug (AKA Ms. Krug). Though I'm short on German words for "hell yes" - okay, downright bereft - I managed to accept and immediately commenced planning my outfit for the interview. I felt, you see, as though I needed to get dressed for the Champagne as much as for the woman. Two things that, depending on how you look at them, are more or less the same thing in this case.
Hey, Champagne: There's a New Gal In Town
Turns out Margareth "Maggie" Henriquez is not your typical Champagne house CEO. For starters, she's not French. But not only is she not French, she is - mon dieu! - Latin. As in, Venezuelan. Though unmistakably elegant, Maggie's is a subdued elegance that probably strikes the insanely-turned-out Parisian women she bicycles past as inadequately outree.
Bicycles past, as in: Maggie rides her bike all over Paris (no town car for this one!), including to the train station daily for her 40-minute commute to Champagne. If all of this is sounding rather quotidien and not very glamorous, then you haven't yet encountered her enchanting personality, which - I'm gonna go right ahead and say it - sparkles as much as Maggie's ridiculously delicious bubbly. Which, I'll add, offers zero shortage of couture-caliber glamor.
Speaking of trains, the one I took to my interview with Maggie was delayed, which meant that I kept the most important woman in Champagne waiting...for me. I was so flustered by the time I arrived at San Francisco's Hotel Vitale that my sunglasses actually fogged up, a fact that - along with the harried transfer I made in the elevator from Old Navy flip flops to suitably chic pumps - means I arrived disheveled as well as desperate to apologize. Which I did, over and over again, while Krug's dapper Carl Heline waved my tardiness away and ushered me into a suite where Maggie was waiting. Bless her, she just poured me a glass of Grand Cuvee, and we were off.
Heart of the Matter
Maggie told me a bunch of stuff about Krug's new direction since she came on board in 2008: About her decision to bring the focus back to Krug Grande Cuvee, the house's multi-vintage flagship wine. About her desire to tell the story of Krug, rather than simply focus on the wine itself (focusing on the wine - any wine - itself is "boring," she says). About her literally going through thousands of documents at Krug's headquarters until she found the personal journal of its founder, Johann Joseph Krug, and how it details his desire - nay, imperative - to create a product that offers superlative - almost otherworldly - pleasure to its drinkers. You know: the highlights of the story she came to tell.
But what I really wanted to know was about Maggie herself, and what inspires her. Turns out this was just the line of questioning she seems made for. She is not, after all, a woman who wants to sit around and wax "poetic" about barrel fermentation (Krug does it, famously), malolactic fermentation (Krug does not do it, in order to preserve a certain raciness in the wine), varieties used (Chardonnay predominates in the GC), and autolytic character (the yeasty, "mature"-like quality that Krug wines are teeming with). With a wine this good - and at $150/pop retail, $400 on wine lists it better be - the wine speaks for itself. And happily - really, really happily - I had a bottomless glass of it sitting right in front of me.
Work Ethic, Favorite Things
"I have always been in crisis," Maggie told me, with a touch of pride. I'd asked about her career, and she proceeded to recount the following, about how she has always been in crisis "because I've been in Latin America. [When working] in 1993 I had big crisis in front of me. In 1995 I moved to Mexico and I was president of a very large company and we were in crisis..and then in 2001 I arrived in Argentina at another large company, and there was a crisis, and I arrived in 2009 at Krug and there was a global crisis...I know now what has always motivated me: people. So decisions were made thinking about people. First. And everything can come around that."
When I asked her: What are some influences for you outside the realm of wine specifically? She though for just a moment before ticking off a host of tres Latin-French influences: "Art. Anything: Music, ballet, opera, I love opera. And then modern art, I really love modern art. And then nature. Really, nature, even site seeing, is inspiring. It's very inspiring." Maggie has lived in Paris for just two years now, which makes her a newbie Parisienne. What are her "musts" in Paree? "I love to go to the modern art museum. I love to go there anytime. I love to go see plays..to listen to music. I love to go to the Bois de Boulogne to exercise. You have a beautiful contact with nature. And, to be honest, in Paris I take my bike and I go around and I have so much fun." I've mentally transported myself to Maggie's City of Lights already.
Wine: Too Much Rationality, Not Enough Pleasure
My question about what's inspiring when it comes to work elicited the following surprising - in a great way - response: "Krug is really a source of pleasure. What has happened is that the world of wine [has turned] too much into rationality. And this is where Krug was [in the recent past], and this is what I want to move away from. And this is why I looked for history because I knew roots would give me all the richness to have a vision and move away from rationality." With success, she hopes to move "from a functional domain into the domain of art. So the limit is the sky."
Priorities: Life, Family, Art, Wine
Maggie gave me the sense that she is about life first, wine second (frankly, a lot of other stuff before wine; see above). She is unaffected, less controlled than French women. Proof: She was truly drinking with me during our talk, and continued to sip on wine throughout the reception that followed. Not dainty sips a la une francaise, but real quaffs for this one! THIS must be the Latin.
My favorite moment in my chat with Maggie was easily when she said, simply: "You know the best wine is the wine that you like and that gives you pleasure." A woman with a big heart who gets to the heart of the matter. Merci.
Posted by Courtney
at 09:05 PM •