Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Krug Champagne: Early History In The U.S. (Part 1)

"What effect does too much Krug Champagne have on a man? It makes him walk krug-ed."
--The Times Democrat, March 3, 1867 (LA)

Krug Champagne. A Champagne House that has existed for 176 years and has a stellar reputation for exquisite Champagne. Its production level is much less than other major Houses but that is a choice they make. Their least expensive Champagne will run you at least $150 but is well worth the splurge.

Recently, I had the opportunity to interview Julie Cavil, the Wine Director at Krug, to delve deeper into the workings of their cellar, to better understand their process and philosophy of Champagne production. It was a fascinating discussion but I want to begin this two-part article with some history of Krug, especially its early history in the U.S.

The founder of Krug, Johann-Joseph Krug, was born in 1800, in the city of Mainz, which is now part of Germany. However, at the time of his birth, Napoleon Bonaparte had recently annexed the territory so it was technically part of France. It wouldn't be until 1814 that the French were ousted and Mainz once again became part of Germany. Around 1824, Joseph, who had dropped the use of Johann, decided to leave home, eventually settling in the city of Hanau, working as a merchant.

Eventually moving on again, Joseph traveled to Paris in 1834 and fortuitously ended up working for Jacquesson & Fils, a Champagne producer in Châlons-sur-Marne. He quickly became such a valuable employee that he was made a partner in 1835. At the time, Joseph vowed to remain a partner for life though that vow lasted less than ten years. In 1842, he left Jacquesson to establish his own Champagne house and in 1843, he founded Krug et Cie. Joseph died on August 5, 1866, and his son Paul Krug, who had an equal passion for Champagne, took over control of the House.

When was Krug Champagne first exported to the U.S.? How much did it cost? Did Americans like Krug or prefer other Champagnes? Let's explore some of the early history of Krug in the U.S. and learn the answers to these and other questions.

Champagne was imported into the U.S. at least as far back as 1764, and during the late 18th century, both Still and Sparkling Champagne wines were available. During the early 19th century, the options included Still White and Red Champagne, as well as Sparkling. It wasn't until 1823 that the first specific Champagne brand was listed in a newspaper advertisement. Before that time, all of the ads simply referred to Champagne generically, sometimes mentioning "superior quality" Champagne without specifying a brand. Even when brand names started to be mentioned in some ads, many of the ads still failed to specify a brand.

Even most of the brands that were mentioned probably wouldn't be familiar to many modern readers. It wasn't until the 1830s that we begin to see some of the names of Champagne Houses which still exist, such as Ruinart, Clicquot, and Heidsieck.

The first evidence I found of Krug's presence in the U.S. is from 1849, remarkable considering the House was only 6 years old at that point! The Evening Post, December 27, 1849, published an advertisement for Thomas McMullen who offered a number of imported wines for sale, including Champagne from Krug. & Co., in quarts and pints.

It is also intriguing that the Champagne wasn't offered in 750ml bottles, the norm nowadays, but rather in quarts and pints. In comparison, a quart has about 946ml and a pint has about 473ml. Champagne would continue to be sold in quarts and pints for the rest of the 19th century, as well as into the start of the 20th century.

The next mention was in the Boston Post, January 15, 1852, which published an ad for John S. Blake, selling at the Central wharf, a few baskets of "the superior quality Krug & Co. White Label Champagne Wine," available in quarts and pints. The Boston Post, November 16, 1855, then published an ad, from George Greig & Co., agents for Krug & Co. They had some Krug Champagne for sale, noting "This Wine is well known in the country, particularly in Canada, where it has long been a favorite brand with the Officers of Her Majesty's Regiments stationed there, and it can be afforded at moderate prices." They even allowed some sampling, stating, "Good judges are invited to sample it, for which no charge made."

The Daily Alta, October 26, 1856 (CA) printed an ad for Hellman Bros & Co., a wine importer, selling quarts and pints of Champagne, including the "Shield" brand from "Krug & Co., from Rheims." There was another ad from the same importer in the The Daily Alta, December 25, 1856 (CA), simply offering Champagne from "Krug & Company's Reims" without mentioning a specific brand.

In the next year, The Times-Picayune, February 16, 1857 (LA) printed an ad for Eug. Rochereau & Co., noting wines and brandies they had for sale, including Champagne of "Krug & Co." They posted additional advertisements in the The Daily Delta, January 13, 1858 (LA) and Commercial Bulletin, January 28, 1860 (LA), indicating they still sold Champagne from Krug & Co.

As an aside, 1857 might also be the year that Krug Champagne was first introduced to Canada. The Gazette, August 5, 1857 (Montreal) had an ad from an importer noting they have recently brought in "Krug Champagne, Shield brand." I don't possess any additional information about this Shield brand but I am seeking to learn more, and this brand will also be available in the U.S.

In the Daily Alta California, July 3, 1862, under an article, Market Review, describing the current California market for numerous trade goods, it indicated, "Some little demand exists for Champagne, but the general trade is dull." It also notes the sale of "90 baskets of Krug Champagne."

An advertisement in The Times-Picayune, December 28, 1864 (LA) described a new business led by George Palmer, agent, wholesale and retail dealer in "Superior Wines, Liquors, Cordials, &c." His new store had 50 baskets of assorted Champagne brands, available in quarts and pints, including Krug & Co.

At the top of this article, I posted a Krug riddle and pun, and that same source, The Times Democrat, March 3, 1867 (LA), published a second one too. "Why is Krug Champagne like letter paper? Because it is put up in reams (Reims)." These were the only two Champagne riddles mentioned in this article, and seems to be indicative of the popularity of this brand.

The Sugar-Planter, August 22, 1868 (LA) listed an ad for an importer, noting he had just received "Genuine Krug Champagne" in pints. The addition of the adjective "genuine" may indicate there was an issue with counterfeit champagne. As I'll note later, the problem of counterfeit Krug during the later half of 19th century definitely existed.

Maybe the first reference to the taste of Krug is mentioned in The Courier-Journal, November 3, 1868 (KY).  The advertisement states, "W.H. Walker & Co. have been appointed sole agents for the Krug Champagne, a wine that is being introduced into this country by Rocheveau of New Orleans. We have tried it and can speak of its merits with some assurance. It is very light and delicate, and--what is rare--not too sweet. It is a cross between the Heidsech and Cliquot. Of its genuineness there can be no doubt. It has the veritable Reims flavor." This indicates that Krug was less sweet than many other Champagnes. This advertisement also references its terroir, noting how it possesses the "Reims flavor."

The first prices I found for Krug Champagne were listed in the Nashville Union & American, September 9, 1871. A.C. Carter indicated he just received 10 cases of "the celebrated brand Krug & Co.'s Champagne," quarts and pints, from his importer in New York. He continues that "as money is about played out" he is offering to sell the Krug for $3 for quart and $1.50 for pint bottles.

Interestingly, it was a Canadian newspaper that provided statistics on Champagne imports into the U.S. during 1876. The Gazette, January 4, 1878 (Montreal) posted information from "Bonfort's Wine and Liquor Circular, of Jan. 18, 1877," listing the amount of imported cases of various Champagne brands in 1876. The top three brands were G.H. Mumm & Co. (34,815 cases), Piper-Heidsieck (20,202 cases), and L. Roederer (17,185 cases). Krug & Co. was in 8th place, with 4,915 cases. The total amount of imported cases of all Champagnes was 139,313 cases. So, you can see that the percentage of imported Krug was less than 4% of the total imports of Champagne.

As a follow-up, The Gazette, February 6, 1878 (Montreal), posted similar information for the year 1877. The top three brands remained the same, though the amounts were different: G.H. Mumm & Co. (35,270 cases), Piper-Heidsieck (23,879 cases), and L. Roederer (12,808 cases). Of the three, only L. Roederer saw a loss, about 4300 cases. Krug & Co. jumped a spot to 7th place, with 4800 cases, despite a small loss of about 100 cases. Total imports of Champagne dropped by about 7000 cases.

The next year, The Gazette, March 21, 1879 (Montreal), posted similar information for the year 1878. Once again, the top three brands remained the same, though the amounts were different: G.H. Mumm & Co. (35,986 cases), Piper-Heidsieck (19,636--a loss of about 4000 cases), and L. Roederer (13,469 cases). Curiously, and for unknown reasons, Krug & Co. was not listed on the chart this year. Total imports of Champagne once again decreased, this time by about 6000 cases.

In the Oakland Tribune, July 29, 1876, there was an advertisement by Hellman Bros. & Co., sole agents, for sales of Krug-Champagne. They advertised three different type of Krug, including: Private Cuvee, Shield, and Premiere Qualite, all available in quarts or pints. Unfortunately, no description was given for these three types. As a follow-up, the Oakland Tribune, November 14, 1979, provided some prices for Private Cuvee ($28-$29), Shield ($21-$22), and Premiere Qualite ($18-$19). In comparison, Piper-Heidseck was priced at $25-$27 and Louis Roderer at $30-$32.

In a return to a discussion of dry Krug, The Times-Picayune, November 11, 1879, (LA) mentioned how A. Rochereau & Co. recently received a shipment of Krug, "..of a 'dry' quality, which, as we are informed, has been especially prepared for the United States." This is noted as the start of regular shipments of the dry Krug, which previously was available only by special order, and now will be for the general public.

Here is a copy of an ad from The Daily Item, November 19, 1879, (LA), noting the availability of both Dry and Standard types of Krug.

There is some follow-up from The Times-Picayune, November 30, 1879, (LA), noting that since the first lot of dry Krug has arrived, it has been very popular, and has even "received the indorsement of the Northern press and connoisseurs in general."  It continues, "The high opinion held about it by gentlemen here is guarantee sufficient to say that there is no finer nor more delicately flavored wine than the Dry Krug Champagne." The New Orleans Daily Democrat, November 30, 1879, added some comments on Dry Krug, noting that: "..if we may believe the opinions of some of the most distinguished connoisseurs North and West, is destined to become the leading wine in the United States."

In a brief article specifically dealing with Champagne, the Commercial Bullein, December 6, 1879 (LA), stated, "Among the various brands of wine which were introduced into this market during the past quarter of a century, there is not one that has attained the reputation that has been accorded to Krug." The article also states, "As the holidays are approaching we would remind our readers that no hidden headaches are concealed in Krug, which many no doubt found to their sorrow was the case in other brands of champagne."

Another holiday reference is from The Times-Picayune, December 25, 1880 (LA), which printed, "Krug For Christmas--Good wine needs no push--neither does Krug champagne which is accounted one of the purest and finest wines ever distilled from the generous grape. It has flavor and tone and exhilarating properties of a kind to make the heart feel happy and forgiving to all the world."

Here is a picture of a Krug bottle provided in an advertisement in the New Orleans Price-Current, March 16, 1881.

Counterfeit Krug alert! In The San Francisco Examiner, October 10, 1882, Hellman Brothers & Co., agents for sales of Krug-Champagne, posted a warning about counterfeit Krug, including the intent to prosecute anyone who counterfeits Krug, heir trademarks and labels. The warning also notes that authentic Krug will have the name branded on the bottom of the cork, as pictured above. With the great popularity of Krug, and its sales restricted to specific agents, one can understand the financial temptation to counterfeit it, like why high-end Bordeaux is currently counterfeited in China.

Changes came to the Krug market in 1885. In an advertisement in The Times-Democrat, September 3, 1885, (LA), it was noted that the only Krug Champagne now being imported was the "Krug Sec," which is said to be superior to "Carte Blanche" and "Private Cuvee." Another ad in The Times-Democrat, December 27, 1885, (LA) reported that, "The Krug Champagne in baskets is no longer imported in the U.S. It is replaced by a far superior wine, which is the 'Krug Sec.' Imported in cases, and which is equal in quality to the best brands of Champagne."

The term "Sec" now generally signifies a Champagne with 17-32 grams of sugar per liter, so it would tend to be sweeter than what many consider a "dry" champagne. However, additional advertisements seem to indicate the "Krug Sec" was a more dry version. The Montgomery Advertiser, December 14, 1886 (AL), mentioned "Krug Sec, Extra Dry" and The Courier-Journal, December 15, 1889 (KY), had a wine store add selling "Krug Sec--a Fruity and Dry Champagne."

More Krug prices! The Chicago Tribune, May 26, 1895, printed an ad for A.M. Rothschild & Co., a wine retailer. Prices of Krug Champagne were listed as a quart bottle for $1.13, a dozen quarts for $12.45, a pint for 63 cents, and a 2 dozen case of pints for $13.35.  In The Galveston Daily News, April 2, 1905 (TX), the regular price of a quart of Krug was $1.50, but it was on special for only 80 cents. The Hartford Courant, December 30, 1912, advertised Krug at $3.25 bottle and a case $35.00. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch, December 9, 1915, posted an ad for Krug quarts ($3.45) and pints ($1.85).

In another anti-counterfeiting measure, The Sun, July 27, 1906 (NY) ran an ad noting that all Krug champagne had the words Private Cuvée on the labels and corks.

Vintage Krug appears? The Hartford Courant, February 6, 1907, presents an advertisement for a wine store and importer, which offers "Krug Champagne, 1900 Vintage." According to Champagne, Uncorked, by Alan Tardi, "The house of Krug made its first vintage Champagne in 1904 (though bottles with a year indicated on the label are said to have been found in the Krug cellars as early as 1880);" So, the 1900 offering might not have actually been Vintage Champagne, despite having a specific year on its label.

The first mention of Champagne splits I found was from 1908. The Washington Post, January 30, 1908, published an ad for To-Kalon Wine Co., indicating "One Basket Only--Left. Contains 12 Splits Krug Imported Champagne; ideal for the sick room. Special price, including basket, $9.00." I guess if you are ill, some champagne might help perk you up.

As we saw, Krug Champagne did very well in the U.S. during the 19th century, and a dry version was generally preferred. Krug offered a few different brands, though no description was provided for any of them. Counterfeiting was an issue though measures were taken to prevent it. I hope you've enjoyed this historical peek into the early history of Krug Champagne in the U.S.

In Part 2, I take a look at Krug today, with my interview of Julie Cavil, Wine Director at Krug.

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