A mosquito changed Paul Champoux’s life. In 2009, he contracted West Nile Virus from a bite, which left him partially paralyzed. For some, being wheelchair bound would have meant the end of their career, but Champoux, majority owner and operator of Champoux Vineyards at the time, saw it as an opportunity. “I did my job of vineyard manager better, because I was in the vineyard more on my four-wheeler,” he says. He has since regained some mobility, although he still relies on a wheelchair much of the time.
Champoux got his start in the industry in 1979 as vineyard manager for Chateau Ste. Michelle Vineyards in Paterson, WA. It was a time when the Washington wine industry was really growing, and Ste. Michelle planted more than 2,000 acres in just four years. “It was quite a project with not much experience, so we had to learn on the go,” Champoux recalls.
By 1996, Champoux and his wife, Judy, had championed a partnership between several wineries, becoming the majority owners and business operators for their own vineyard. Champoux says the high point of his career was learning to be a true viticulturist, transforming a rundown vineyard into a world-renowned one. His hard work paid off. Champoux earned many accolades over the years, including four Wine Advocate perfect 100-point scores for wines produced from the vineyard’s grapes.
It helped that viticulture was – and still is – Champoux’s passion. In fact, that’s his secret to success. “Enjoy and love what you are doing, and the focus will be there to do the best you can,” he says.
But now, after 35 years, Champoux has decided to retire…sort of. He has retired from the day-to-day operation of Champoux Vineyards LLC, which is being operated by a custom management organization, but he has not retired from the industry. “I’m still on a couple of industry boards, Judy and I still own 5 acres of Cabernet, and Judy still runs Chateau Champoux Tasting Room,” he says. “I will miss the daily busy, busy, but I know I will get over that!”
Champoux has high hopes for the future of the Washington winegrape industry, too. “The Washington industry has created head-turning wines and deserves to be at the world tasting table,” he says. “We are headed for the best if we all do better at what we do.”