The Wine Doctor profiles Domaine M. Chapoutier & Michel Chapoutier, a “firebrand”
The history of Chapoutier begins many centuries ago, in the Ardeche where Michel claims to have his roots, his farming ancestors only coming down to settle in Tain l’Hermitage some time during the 18th century. This individual may well have been Polydor Chapoutier, or perhaps one of his immediate forebears; having taken up work with a local négociant Polydor worked his way up the ranks until in 1808 he was able, with the help of a partner, to buy out the firm. And so the Chapoutier family business was born. It was subsequently passed from father to son and in the mid-20th century it was Marc Chapoutier, Michel’s grandfather, who was at the helm. Although he handed control to his son Max in 1977 Marc, the Chapoutier doyen, remained involved and interested right up until his death in 2000. For this reason he was on hand as the relationship between his son Max, and grandson, the redoubtable Michel, began to deteriorate. Things came to a head in the late 1980s when Michel, apparently no longer able to work alongside his father and perhaps only too aware of the aforementioned debts, announced he was leaving.
It was at this point that Marc stepped in to suggest, according to Michel, that Max should cede control of the family business to his son. This solution did not sit well with Michel, however, who foresaw decades of hard graft turning round a failing business only for too many family members, all shareholders, to profit without even lifting a finger. No, said Michel; he would only take over if he had complete autonomy, the sort that can only be ensured by complete and independent control. With his grandfather’s blessing he bought out the rest of the family, and Michel became sole proprietor of the Chapoutier négociant house.
Michel’s brother Marc, credited with work on the administrative side of the business in the early days, soon faded into obscurity. During the 1990s he left France for the West Indies, and although today he is back in France he is not actively involved in the wine business, and it is Michel who runs the family firm, with the support of his wife Corinne. Thus, these days Michel Chapoutier effectively is Chapoutier, a one man brand. Or should that be firebrand?
Indeed, in the early days Michel had a reputation for being something of a firebrand…