The grapes of Rathlin Island…

The following feature piece should have been published under the byline Beck, but we’ve been having problems getting the site to behave itself. 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.Wfm_rathlin

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, or contact this blog with your name and number before midnight tonight.

  • Zig70

    Fantastic, I’m gonna send the wife out for a bottle this morning.

  • babyface finlayson

    Ardogne district? Very good. Known for it’s orange groves.

  • USA

    They say the Rathlin Red is fantastic. She uses seal shite as fertilizer on the vines, it’s the secret ingredient.

  • That’s a lovely little story. I had no idea that grapes could be grown fruitfully (no pun) so far north.Presumably their output wouldn’t be large enough to be sold in our Government owned Wine and Liquor stores in Ontario but I’ll definitely check it out once I’m sure Mick isn’t trying to April Fool us. (One horse town?)

  • caseydog

    I understand that the Marine Hotel in nearby Ballycastle, recently acquired and renovated by Claridges, are negotiating the purchase of a supply of Chateau De Kebble. The newly appointed Maitre D has said that it would compliment their famous dish ‘salmon nori roll’.

    Ballycastle’s movers and shakers keenly await the opening of the new Marine. As expected there will be a dress code – elegant smart casual. Patrons will enter through the newly built film star entrance which will be adjacent to the Marina.

    Great times ahead for the North Coast!

    Great times

  • Presumably any new owner will be more subtle in printing their menus compared with days of old. I was in Ballycastle on business and went into the Marine Hotel. The prices were very reasonable indeed. That was about a month before the Auld LAMMAS Fair. Went back to finish the business a few days before the fair. The prices on the menu had by then been crossed out by pencil and new 50% higher prices pencilled in.
    Mind you that was 35 years ago and you can now spit out a new menu using a jet printer if the technology has reached there..

  • In light of the alleged infestation, ratatouille will probably be on the Marine menu 🙂

    I’d recommend The French Rooms near Dooey 🙂

  • sonofstrongbow

    I visited Mme Planc’s home village in France when I went to the local ski resort on Merde de Cheval mountain. Good runs but a bit lumpy and grassy in places.

  • Barnshee

    I an reliably informed that “Old Bushmills Distillery” is contracting to distil the wine into and an “Irish style” brandy

  • Cheers, Mick.

    OK, OK. I hear you, Slugger patrons.

    I’ve telegraphed Hugo and Rosie, and they’ve promised a bottle of their “1916 Rattlin’ Rathlin Red” for….everybody in the audience (please specify if you’d prefer the “1690 Allstar Ulster White”, although supplies are limited).

  • carl marks

    This is no April fool; i had a glass of the red last year when i attended the annual camel race on the island!

  • babyface finlayson

    carl marks
    “This is no April fool; i had a glass of the red last year when i attended the annual camel race on the island!”
    Don’t tell lies.
    There was no camel race last year. It was due to be held on a Sunday until Ian Paisley Jr took the hump.

  • carl marks

    babyface finlayson
    Sorry BF as soon as Jnr walked back to the mainland we went ahead with the race, alas we had to cancel the hot air balloon event as all the entrants had to get back to Stormont for a debate.

  • carl marks

    babyface finlayson (profile)
    1 April 2013 at 9:03 am

    Ardogne district? Very good. Known for it’s orange groves.

    yes originally settled by wine making folks from north Belfast who moved there because the soil at home would only produce sour grapes!

  • babyface finlayson

    carl marks
    I believe there is a nice red illicitly brewed round S. Armagh.
    Vin Diesel they call it.
    That’s me done.

  • carl marks

    babyface finlayson (profile)
    1 April 2013 at 7:18 pm

    carl marks
    I believe there is a nice red illicitly brewed round S. Armagh.
    Vin Diesel they call it.
    That’s me done.

    good one!

  • carl and babyface,

    Great conversation.