Mike Fitzpatrick’s interest in wine began on the quaintly named Squitchey Lane in Oxford, England, where he lived while studying at Oxford University in the 1970s. It was here that he first tasted wines from Europe’s finest single vineyards.
With the taste of these great wines impressed firmly in his memory, Mike returned to Australia with his future wife Helen. After a successful football career, including captaining Carlton Football Club to two premierships, Mike began building his financial career, while his interest in the finest Australian wines developed.
When Mike met Dr. John Middleton and tasted the outstanding Mount Mary wines, he came to understand that Yarra Valley and its growing collection of winemakers could produce world class Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. The Valley offers growing conditions a little warmer than Burgundy and a little cooler than Bordeaux—and boasts a long history of quality across the full range of classic varieties.
In the mid 90s Mike began to search the Valley for a suitable vineyard, with a view to creating his own single vineyard wines.
“I always wanted to be involved in a winery that was in the boutique style; in other words, big enough to make an impact, but small enough to allow for hands-on at every aspect of the wine-making process,” he said.
“Having spent most of my life in Melbourne, it was natural this place would be in the Yarra Valley. Not only is it a beautiful environment, it is proven to produce world class wines, from an array of locations across the valley. When Domaine Chandon put down its roots in the Valley that showed to me how the world’s best brands and winemakers rated the Valley.
“So, when the opportunity came up, in 1996 (basking in the glow of a Carlton premiership the previous year!!) to purchase the property, with its “old” vines already producing great fruit, and a great location for a tasting room, it was a natural fit. And, with such established vineyards as Coldstream Hills and Yarra Yering close by, it was clear this was great wine-making territory, or as the French say, ‘terroir’.
Naturally he named the place Squitchy Lane—somehow, along the way, the ‘e’ dropped out of the Oxford laneway!
“We wanted Squitchy Lane to be anything but ‘more of the same’ and I think with our range of Fume Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc—as well as some superb Pinot Noir wines—we have done that; our aim is to be innovative, without going outside the structure we know can work in our micro-climate at Squitchy.
“I must say it hasn’t been easy. Over 15 years, we’ve been able to survive bushfires, smoke, embers, sunburnt grapes, frost, downy mildew, drought and voracious birds; for all that, we haven’t had many misses, although we didn’t have enough fruit in 2013 to make a varietal Cabernet.”
“I am very proud of what we’ve done over the last five or so years. The wines can proudly stand with the best of the Valley.”