Specialist wine importer Simon Tyrrell now blends his own wine and has branched into cider making, and is enjoying the creativity involved
We hear frequently about the Irish Wine Geese, the emigrants, or distant relatives of emigrants, who became involved in the wine business. In more recent times, it has become a desirable hobby for those seeking a more relaxed lifestyle in a sunny climate.
However, most wine geese hire viticulturists and oenologists to look after the technical end of things. Growing grapes and making wine is a serious business, requiring knowledge and skill. Few Irish wine geese, new or old, will be as highly qualified as Kildare-based Simon Tyrrell who, in 2009, completed a two-year course in winemaking and viticulture in Plumpton College in Sussex. This required taking a red-eye flight to Gatwick one day a week as well as copious amounts of study. Plus a very understanding wife and family.
Tyrrell did this he says, because by 2007 hecould feel the chill winds of the recession coming. “I wanted to develop an alternative business and at the same time get closer to the source of production. My original intention was only ever to understand more about winemaking but once I started I became fascinated. Obviously with children and a business here, I needed to be realistic and keep going in Ireland – hence the cider.
“When I was at Plumpton, the head winemaker kept hammering home the folly of going off and buying a vineyard without any practical experience of making wine. His advice was to first try blending, then buy some grapes and make wine and only if all this is successful should you should consider buying your own vineyard.”
Tyrrell had already dipped his toe in the water by blending a series of wines under the Simone Joseph label.
“I knew a number of really good producers who, in turn, knew the best sources of grapes and wine. I buy these and blend them. It has worked really well and I now export the wine to several other countries besides Ireland.”
This year sees the first release of Tyrrell’s own wine. He struck a deal with a small co-operative in southern Rhône, which allowed him to select any parcels he wanted. He both harvested the grapes and made the wine.
“I had to buy my own tanks and other equipment, which was a challenge because what I am doing is still pretty small. However I am amazingly happy with the results,” he says.
Tyrrell made 10,000 bottles of Les Deux Cols Côtes du Rhône and a mere 150 bottles of the pure Syrah – 60 bottles of which made their way to Ireland.
“My inspiration was the ethereal, silky wines made by the Reynaud family (who produce the finest Côtes du Rhône and Châteauneuf-du-Pape).
“I really don’t think all of the wines from the southern Rhône have to be big, alcoholic or over-extracted.”
Tyrrell’s wife Emma runs the online business (thewinestore.ie), the new Cider Ireland (an all-Ireland group of artisan producers) and the administration of Tyrrell & Co, one of the best specialist wine importers. She is also an amusing tweeter – @graapples if you tweet.
The cider came about a year or two ago. “After Plumpton I wanted to start fermenting something again and cider was the obvious choice. I set it up with Angus Craigee, an old friend, and a third partner who has since been obliged to relocate to the US.
“We buy apples in Waterford, Tipperary and Kilkenny; a mix of varieties. Angus has a farm and the skills of an agricultural engineer and I know how to ferment. It is going fantastically well. We did 30,000 bottles the first year and this year will do 100,000 bottles. We have had great support from independent beer shops around the country, Chapter One serves it with their tasting menu, and Thorntons list it too.”
Ballyhook is their take on a traditional dry Breton cider. In July, they release a sparkling cider which “will taste as much like a sparkling wine as a cider”, promises Tyrrell.
“Tyrrell & Co is still a very important part to us,” he says, “but the wine and cider-making allows me to see the entire process from start to finish, which gives me a huge amount of creative satisfaction.”