Mike Fitzpatrick’s thirst for a contest has shaped his taste in wine. “Playing football I had my nose broken consistently, so I don’t have a great sense of smell. I go much more on the texture of the wine,” says the man who captained Carlton to back-to-back AFL premierships in the early 80s.
The destruction of his olfactory system certainly hasn’t prevented the company director, fund manager and direct investor from sniffing out a good bottle or two. Or even, in fact, a winery – but more of that later.
The AFL chairman’s earliest wine mentor was his Perth-based brother-in-law, Loren White, who was known to tap Fitzpatrick’s mother for credit as he assembled an impressive cellar of Bordeaux and Burgundy.
Fitzpatrick makes no such claim of his own cellar, which comprises around 50 cases of wine. “It’s a bit all over the place. There’s some high-quality French, there’s quite a few shirazes – some I’d probably rather not have. The interest for me at the moment is really pinot and cabernet and some of the better chardonnays.”
Among those better chardonnays are the burgundies of Puligny-Montrachet from producers such as Joseph Drouhin and Jean-Louis Chavy. “I’ve also got some Rothschilds and Cos d’Estournels that are getting towards 20 years old, so they’re probably as good as anything I’ve got,” says Fitzpatrick of his haul of cabernet-based Bordeaux reds.
But the focus of Fitzpatrick’s cellar is far closer to home, taking in Henschke Hill of Grace and “quite a few Granges”, the vintages of which correlate with milestones such as children’s birth dates and the founding of Hastings Funds Management. These tend to get a call-up when new milestones arrive, such as the wedding of his daughter 18 months ago, when a few bottles of 1984 Penfolds Grange were cracked open. “They didn’t disappoint,” Fitzpatrick assures.
Another Australian icon, Mount Mary Quintet, holds special significance for Fitzpatrick. Some aged bottles enjoy pride of place in his cellar, and the wine inspired Fitzpatrick to get in on the wine game himself. He bought an old vineyard in Gruyere in the Yarra Valley in 1996. For almost a decade now it’s been producing wine under the Squitchy Lane label, named after the street in Oxford, England, where he and wife Helen first started living together (number 16, Fitzpatrick adds fondly).
It produces cabernet sauvignon, pinot noir, chardonnay and fumé blanc, this last a slightly oaked sauvignon blanc that is particularly beloved of Mrs F, who isn’t a chardonnay fan. Her husband suffers no such affliction, and in any case shows a healthy bias towards all that winemaker Robert Paul crafts under the Squitchy name.
He also loves the chardonnays of Yarra Valley neighbours Oakridge and Medhurst, while his penchant for cabernet takes him further afield. The likes of Stags’ Leap in California’s Napa Valley persuade him to overlook his usual antipathy towards higher-alcohol wines.
Fitzpatrick may be missing out on some of the glorious perfume of pinot noir, but his fondness for this grape variety is undiminished. His favourites are Felton Road, Amisfield and Mount Edward in the South Island of New Zealand. “There’s something about the Central Otago wines that I think is exceptional. I think they make the best pinots in the world,” he says.
As if the lasting effects of a high-flying career in football weren’t enough, Fitzpatrick quips that he and wife Helen have developed a cellar palate from overindulging in the house wine, as it were. But Squitchy Lane is not the sole go-to drop chez Fitzpatrick. “We’ve done a pretty good line in Italian wines and we’ve spent a bit of time around chianti in particular,” he says. “I’m quite a big fan of sangiovese and some of the sangiovese and nebbiolo being made around Rutherglen and King Valley is impressive. I think a lot of chianti is nice quaffing wine without being too expensive.