WWC23 – Jack Chaput, by Janet Harrison

Jack Chaput

In today's 2023 wine writing competition publication, wine educator Janet Harrison writes about Champenois vigneron Jack Chaput. See our WWC23 guide for more great wine writing.

Janet Harrison writes Based in Manchester, I am the owner of Cracking Wine, organising and delivering fun and informal wine tastings in the North of England, including larger consumer wine events. Originally working in the insurance industry, I studied wine at the WSET, which I gave up, turning a wine hobby into a business.

The Fire Within

As a rebellious teenager from a council house in the North of England, the world of wine didn’t really figure in my life. My Dad was more of an enthusiastic beer drinker (not in the house of course), but we generally drank tea, with our ‘tea’.

I distinctly remember the night which would eventually lead me to meet my favourite wine person, albeit some 35 years later. It began, much like all the others at the time, listening to records in my bedroom. As X-Ray Spex’s Poly Styrene was belting out a tune, my much older sister burst in to say she had won a disco dancing competition at a local nightclub. She stood resplendent in her neon, skin-tight blue satin trousers, leg warmers and matching headband. She was also clutching a mysterious bottle with a foil top, which she proudly announced was Champagne. I don’t think it had seen the inside of a fridge, but in our excitement and with much curiosity, we both attempted to open it out of the bedroom window. The cork ended up in the front garden of the house across the road. We must have easily lost a glassful in the explosion. We chinked Mum’s best flutes, the ones we only used at Christmas, with etched swans on the front, then sipped. It was like nothing I’d ever experienced before and for some inexplicable reason it tasted special, celebratory and very appropriate for the disco queen’s big moment. From then on, I was hooked.

That night literally fuelled my curiosity in wine, of all types and from all around the world. During the last 25 years, I’ve travelled to many wine producing areas and always manage to squeeze in an annual pilgrimage to the Champagne region, such is my devotion! Driving to the Cote des Bar was the furthest South I’d ventured in Champagne, a good two-hour drive from Reims. It was there that I met Jack, the owner of Champagne Jaques Chaput, in Arrentières. I’d been introduced by a mutual friend in the business and was already intrigued to know more about his bold, expressive wines.

It was a cold but stunning day with lots of sunshine and a touch of frost on the ground as I spotted Jack’s place. It was easy to find as the emblem of the Estate is a Salamander and there was the sign, in the distance, framed against the bright blue sky. The reason for the Salamander is an interesting story and one which is very typical of Jack, as all aspects of his business and his wines have meaning and depth. The emblem is ‘borrowed’ from King François I – the Royal Salamander was very dear to him, alongside the motto "Nutrisco & Extinguo" which can be interpreted as “I feed the good fire and put out the bad". This, Jack explains, is what sets his Estate apart from the others and is what drives him in the vineyard and the cellar.

Jack Chaput’s passion for the area was clear to see and his warm welcome and bear hug made the journey worthwhile. I can’t really mention the man without the wines, because they are so inextricably linked and an expression of who he is as a person. That might sound like a cliché but in this case, it really rings true. Like most interesting people you meet, Jack has many layers. His pride in the vines, his heritage and a determined strive for excellence and difference are very much reflected in his Champagnes. They are slowly aged in cellars (far in excess of minimum ageing requirements), complex, deeply interesting and sometimes challenging (of perceptions). Each one, in my view, is a small masterpiece.

Then was the tour of the Estate – of course I couldn’t turn that down. Jack drove, quite haphazardly, with me in the passenger seat of his Salamander emblazoned van, chatting all the while. At one point, an impatient driver, stuck behind, started sounding his horn In his usual laid-back manner, Jack wound down his window and stuck out his arm in a ‘calm down’ motion, whilst shouting ‘ça va, ça va’. All this was going on at the same time he was explaining about the different aspects of the slopes, the soil structures and his beloved vines. When we turned off the main road, the frustrated driver finally got to continue his journey, gesticulating as he put his foot on the accelerator. This was met with a huge grin from the winemaker.

We eventually stopped at the highest point and got out of the van. As we both squinted into the sunshine, the early morning mist was beginning to melt away. We could see the place Jack had grown up, the vineyards he had nurtured and the local church in the distance – it was quite magical.

However, it didn’t stop there – next was lunch, of course! And on to one of those amazing local restaurants which looks like nothing from the outside but had exquisite food with a daily changing menu. The Chef Patron greeted us like long lost friends and presented us with one of Jack’s own Champagnes – well it would be rude not to. All in all, the visit lasted at least four hours. Four. Whole. Hours! It seemed to go by in a flash – we had such fun. During that time, I gained a great understanding of the man, his wines and his driving force – or as he would say ‘the fire within’.

It was only later, after staying in touch on social media, that I discovered he is the lead singer in a punk band. It was at that moment it all started to fall into place. It felt like my wine journey had come full circle and perhaps explained why I regarded Jack as a kindred spirit.

All great winemakers are creatives, which is why we find the industry so enticing and admire those who work incredibly hard to produce the wines we love. So, to my favourite wine person, fellow punk and all-round good guy, I say cheers. Thanks for your fabulous wines and for the great memories.

The photograph is the author's own.