Q&A: Eric Lebel
The Krug chef de caves describes finding his Holy Grail and explains why the flute is not perfect for champagne
When did you begin doing your job? "I was offered the position with Krug in 1998. It was like reaching the Holy Grail of champagne. I was hired by Henri Krug [who had just sold the house to LVMH but remains active in the winemaking business] and worked with him. So, initially, I thought, 'Wow, I've made it!'"
How do those in red wine areas perceive Champagne, the region? Are they jealous of your status? "There has been a change in the mentality of other regions. They now understand champagne is not a wine that you macerate [soften by soaking]; it's a wine of blending. You blend from different parcels; whereas the backbone of other regions is terroir and one single vine. Some people are jealous because we are a very rich region."
Is your work art or science? "The art is in the blending. This is based on intuition. You have to foresee 10, 12, 15 years ahead for each collection, and it's all based on experience. This is the artist side, like an orchestra conductor. Then there's the doctor side, with the analytical controls of acidity and sugar. You have to understand the biological, chemical and physical background. There is a lot of science but, without the artistic side, it wouldn't have any soul."
What have you got against the flute? "It's a misconception that champagne should be served in flute glasses, although that might be fine for very young and delicate champagnes, where you need to hide the bitterness and the lack of aroma. Instead of a flute, you should put champagne in a white wine glass. You need to be able to express the generosity of the champagne. It's a waste to over chill it and put it in a flute; you might as well drink sparkling water."
Has climate change had an affect on your work? "Yes, it is getting warmer, and that has led to pathologies and diseases that have not been seen in Champagne before, but more in Burgundy, now coming north. Over the past 10 years, harvest days have advanced by two days on average. [The changes] make you more cautious about acidity and maturation levels. They make you pay more attention to details but don't change the process."
How do you feel when you see people at sporting events or celebrations spraying your work everywhere? "On the one hand I am very happy to see people celebrate with champagne. On the other, I feel a little unhappy … it was made for drinking."