The following feature piece should have been published under the byline Beck, but we’ve been having problems getting the site to behave itself.
As a business venture, it might seem like something that would elicit a unanimous “I’m out!” from the Dragons’ Den, or it could put you in mind of an enterprise that Ted Crilly may well have undertaken to swell the parish coffers on Craggy Island. But for French native Rosie Planc, her Irish vineyard is no laughing matter.
As someone who grew up in the vineyards of France’s eastern seaboard, Madamemoiselle Planc knows more than a little about viticulture. It wasn’t wine that originally brought the young French woman to the North of Ireland, however, but that other famous French export: love.
Rosie met Rathlin Islander Hugo O’Reillgoe, when he was an exchange student in her village in the Ardogne district of France. The pair bonded quickly, despite the language barrier. Hugo’s school French was of little help to him when dealing with the local dialect of Longueduc which Rosie and her family spoke. Likewise, Rosie had trouble deciphering Hugo’s esoteric variety of Ulster Scots, peppered as it was with remnants of Rathlin Gaelic. She told him later that when she first heard him speak, he sounded to her like a shipwrecked Scotsman.
Hugo’s father thought that the fare his son’s Alma Mater was charging to transport the pupils by ferry to France was excessive. He told Hugo that the only way he would allow him to go on the exchange programme was if he took the family fishing boat. He was joking of course, but Hugo took him at his word.
O’Reillgoe Junior sailed off into the Straits of Moyle early one Saturday morning, as his classmates and teachers were boarding the boat in Larne. Hugo had been navigating the waters off the Antrim coast with his father since he was a young boy, and he steered the vessel safely down the Irish Sea and into the English Channel.
When he rounded the North East coast of France, however, Hugo’s GPS navigational system failed and the boat ran aground near the village of Ville d’Un Cheval, where Rosie found him wandering aimlessly along the shore.
Luckily, both Rosie and Hugo studied Latin at school, and in a throwback to the heady days of the Roman Empire, they used the tongue of Caesar and Cicero as their lingua franca. Even to this day, locals on Rathlin Island are bemused to hear the couple converse in broken Latin when they are trying to keep their competitors from learning their Rathlin wine making secrets.
After Hugo’s exchange visit to France ended, he continued to correspond with Rosie by email. The young couple’s friendship blossomed into a full blown romance and they soon married. Rosie sadly said au revoir to her Gallic homeland and settled with Hugo on Antrim’s very own Craggy Island.
As part of her dowry, Rosie’s father had given her a large bunch of his home grown Pinot Nord grapes, known for their ability to produce fine wines in extreme Northern temperatures. When Rosie realised that the combination of the Gulf Stream and the mouldy Rathlin soil could provide ideal wine making conditions, she had the full support of her young husband and his family in her enterprise.
Despite the initial raised eyebrows from locals, when she was spotted trampling her grapes in public, Rosie persevered and together with her husband Hugo she now has a thriving wine export business in Rathlin.
One of the most successful vintages of the Chateau de Kebble was the 2012 Rachery Rouge which was launched this day last year. Bottles of this “rascally red with hints of heather and hyacinth” (Weird Wines Magazine), regularly end up on dinner tables from North Kerry to North Korea. The North Koreans allegedly present every citizen of voting age with two bottles of Kebble Bubbles (Rosie’s champagne variety) on the night before a general election.
To be in with a chance to win a year’s supply of Hugo’s personal favourite Planc Blanc, call the Rathlin Telegraph Exchange (try, http://www.192.com/) or contact this blog with your name and number before midnight tonight.
Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty