Exploring Les Deux Cols: A Tale of Two and a Half Irishmen

By | 7 February 2024

How a group of three Dublin-based wine lovers started a rising-star Rhône vineyard.


Raymond Blake

Raymond Blake on the romance and reality of Les Deux Cols, a collaboration that began in Dublin and is now producing increasingly refined wines in the Rhône Valley.

Much has been written about the strong Irish wine connections to Bordeaux, made manifest in château names such as Léoville Barton and Lynch-Bages, and négociants such as Lawton. Valid Hibernian claims can also be made for far-distant regions—Clare Valley in Australia springs to mind—and, though some of the links have been eroded over time, Irish wine lovers are never slow to engage in some genealogical wizardry to fan the embers of a connection that may be more historical than contemporary. No such sleight of hand is needed in the case of Les Deux Cols, in the Rhône Valley, whose genesis barely extends back to the end of the past century.

Charles Derain hails from Toulouse and moved to Ireland in 1999 to work as a sommelier. Having graduated from Lycée Hotelier de Tain l’Hermitage with some winemaking experience at Domaine Alain Graillot under his belt, he soon earned the reputation of being Ireland’s finest sommelier. Members of the wine trade who wanted to sell wine to him knew that they were working with a true connoisseur. Among them was Simon Tyrrell, owner of a wine distribution company focused on wines from the Rhône Valley. The two men quickly established a bond that soon transformed into a close friendship and talks about creating wine together. But before that could happen, Derain decided to start his own wine importing business, Nomad Wine, in 2007. He sold wines from some of Burgundy’s best domaines to independent clients and restaurants, including the place where he used to work. Though the hospitality sector lost a valuable player, the wider wine world had much to gain.

Tyrrell shares, “We knew each other well. I first sold wine to Charles around 2000. We connected instantly because I had a collection of wines from the Rhône, which he was quite familiar with… We started discussing the possibility of starting a small négoce business in Burgundy. We did run it for a few years, but we probably underestimated the skills required to manage a business that was as time and monetary consuming as that.”

In the late 2000s, Charles and Tyrrell took tentative steps towards creating their own wine. Tyrrell eventually realized that he needed a more formal education to speed up their progress and reach their objective. So in 2009, he joined Plumpton College in the UK for a two-year course in viticulture and enology. During his studies, he continued consulting with Derain and they eventually came up with a plan to start a négoce business where they would make some wine together in the Rhône valley. At that stage, they did not envision owning vineyards and thought that their business would initially involve purchasing grapes.

Plumpton provided Tyrrell with the necessary knowledge and skills for grape-growing and winemaking. Tyrrell also learned about the challenges that he and Derain would have to face and navigate to succeed. He appreciates Plumpton’s realistic and practical approach to teaching. One of the key pieces of advice he received was not to immediately purchase a vineyard after graduating from winemaking college, considering the numerous pitfalls they could encounter. They were instead advised to begin by blending finished wines. If that strategy worked, they could progress to buying grapes and making wine. If all went according to plan and they were able to establish a brand, buying a vineyard would be the final step.

Taking this advice to heart, they decided to approach Denis Deschamps, the director of the small avant-garde cooperative, Les Vignerons d’Estézargues. They inquired about the possibility of being sold grapes and using the cooperative’s winery equipment. Deschamps readily offered the use of his facilities, which also meant access to a vast 350 hectares of vineyard. All they needed were some small tanks appropriate for their production volume. Between 2012 and 2016, they stuck to this approach, producing a white and two red wines. Tyrrell admits that their initial wine-making process was quite simple, utilizing a basket press borrowed from a vigneron since the press at Estézargues was too big for their needs.

Les Deux Cols was born from these humble beginnings. The name is influenced by two hills near one of the Estézargues vineyards. It also references the two colleagues, who soon became three, when Gerard Maguire joined as an equal partner in 2017.

Maguire’s professional journey has been quite diverse compared to Tyrrell or Derain. He worked as a police detective for 15 years, as a lawyer for 15 more, and later followed his true passion for wine, launching a wine shop – 64 Wine. The store, located in the Dublin suburb of Glasthule, has been recognized as one of the best in the country. Maguire’s enthusiasm for wine is infectious, and his inventory is a treasure-trove of selections, from Château Latour and Chave Hermitage, to L’Ermita and Gaja. The collection also hosts a remarkable array of exquisite Burgundies, courtesy of Maguire’s business partner Anthony Robineau.

When Tyrrell and Derain started considering the idea of owning vineyards, they quickly understood the necessity of additional investment. That’s when Maguire came on board – he was not just an investor but an equal partner. Derain succinctly sums up their collective winemaking approach, “We are focused on freshness. We’re not looking for concentration, we want everything ripe, but it is important not to confuse ripeness with overripeness. We are looking for a floral style with red fruits, raspberry and strawberry, not spice and black fruits—that is not our cup of tea. Light extraction, with good acidity and freshness, is what we are after.”

Their flagship wine, La Degève, is a 100 percent Grenache Vin de France, which is harvested from a high-altitude single vineyard of stony limestone with southwest exposure. All the work in the vineyard is carried out manually, including the harvest, and subsequent fermentation and maturation. Tyrrell adds “As new vignerons, we are still feeling our way through the vinification process—not so much in the actual fermentation itself, but certainly in the maturation process. We would like to be able to refine our maturation by moving to larger foudres…”

It is worth noting that Grenache is gaining popularity worldwide. From its humble beginnings as a filler to augment deficient blends, it has evolved into a much more significant player in the field. Tyrrell, Derain, and Maguire have certainly benefitted from this wave, aligning their efforts with what today’s market wants, and it couldn’t have been timed any better.

Fashion may be on their side, but this doesn’t hide the fact that this triumvirate has paved their own path, from the dawn to dusk of the winemaking process; from manually clearing and planting vineyards, to hand-selling their product. The journey of successful winemaking isn’t over once the wine is bottled. More challenges in the realm of sales and distribution persist: presenting samples for tasting to importers and sommeliers; pouring wines for continuous hours at trade fairs; answering repetitive questions and narrating the same story repeatedly. And of course, there’s the paperwork.

Wine enthusiasts who nurture the fanciful desire of owning a vineyard after hitting the jackpot may want to consult first with Derain, particularly if they are considering purchasing in France, infamous for its mind-boggling bureaucracy: “It is an absolute nightmare. I am grappling with four or five different offices just to make wine. You would need to hire a person specifically to comprehend it all. It is ridiculous… Making good wine and selling it should be the priority, but paperwork consumes 50 percent of your time. I am clueless as to how others manage this. There is no getting away from it.” For those who think bureaucracy is the sole problem: “Agriculture is labor intensive. We do everything ourselves. It is highly demanding.” This should shatter any illusions. Derain’s frustrations dealing with the French bureaucracy justifies his legitimate claim to full Irish status, given his penchant for turning the air blue at the mere mention of it, and his verbose protest against its convoluted intricacies.

Saying that these three are just obsessed with the quality of the wine would hardly be an exaggeration; they are dogmatic about following as environmentally friendly practices as they can. Maguire extrapolates: “We three share a common commitment to improvement; there’s always room for it, you never quite reach your goal. We aim to make a superior wine and leave a more positive footprint. Our legacy should be leaving the vineyard in a better state than we found it. Taking care of the environment comes naturally to us, it is in our DNA, there is never a need to even discuss it.”

While sampling the initial vintages from Les Deux Cols, my reaction was polite rather than enthusiastic, perhaps influenced by my familiarity and respect for the trio’s endeavor. The wines today display a certain assertiveness and a more definitive identity than they did during their early stages. Yet, there’s no denying that they can continue to grow in terms of finesse and elegance. Their prepare to transition from adolescence to maturity, which shows great potential.

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