Battlefield chaplain raises a glass to help local charities

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Rev Marcus Wyn Robinson, former Navy chaplain, will be holding wine-tasting evenings at Bodnant Welsh Food, which will raise cash for local charities.

An Armed Forces chaplain who served on the front line under fire in the Falklands and the Gulf War is planning a fund-raiser for Welsh charities.

Reverend Marcus Wyn Robinson from Gwynedd is inviting charities to bid for a slice of cash from a wine-tasting dinner he is hosting at a Welsh centre of excellence.

He will be recounting tales from his days as an Armed Forces chaplain, and his work with service men and women suffering post-traumatic stress, during the event at Bodnant Welsh Food Centre in the Conwy Valley.

Diners will enjoy wines specially picked by the larger than life minister, and he’ll explain how they enhance and match the dishes cooked up by Bodnant’s executive chef, Dai Davies.

Charities or local other good causes can buy a table for the night and each ticket will generate £5 to the charity.

There will then be a limited auction of gifted items that will be raffled off – with the proceeds shared in equal measure to the number of supporters attracted by each charity.

Rev Robinson – who played a strict drink-despising minister in BBC Wales TV reality show Snowdonia1890 – now wants to hear from local charities who would like to benefit from a share of the profits from the event on March 20.

“It’s going to be an enjoyable evening, with anecdotes, food, wine and laughter, plus it will raise funds for local charities,” promised the cleric, who was nick-named Taff the Laugh by his comrades in arms.

He grew up in Caernarfon and discovered a love of wine during his student days in Aberystwyth, where he worked as a sommelier at a town hotel before joining the ministry.

He was based in Llanberis but opted to travel the world with the Royal Navy as a chaplain. During his 20 years with the Forces he developed his knowledge of wine and ended up in charge of wine for formal State banquets and dinners in the officers’ mess, between spells on active service on-board aircraft carriers.

“I was in the first flotilla of ships in the Falklands and was with the same people for over six months, I developed an interest in treating those who were struggling to deal with the awful things they’d seen during the war.

“I’ve been in dangerous places, with people shooting at me. In such circumstances, the chaplain becomes a member of the Red Cross – you give first aid to the injured and are responsible for prisoners of war.

“I have been scared for my life, and I faced death when I had to ditch from a helicopter in the Falklands arena,” added Rev Robinson, now a Presbyterian minister serving Bethel, Caeathro and Llanrug.

Bodnant Welsh Food Centre managing director Chris Morton is looking forward to welcoming the Rev Robinson to the centre’s Hayloft restaurant, overlooking the Conwy river estuary.

“We’re always looking for different ways to raise funds for local charities – in the past couple of years we’ve raised thousands of pounds for Ty Gobaith Children’s Hospice, just down the road from us.

“This promises to be a most interesting evening – I am looking forward to hearing more about the minister’s life as a Navy chaplain, as well as his views on the wines here at Bodnant.”

Rev Robinson also spent a year with the New Zealand Navy, with plenty of time onshore to explore the country’s emerging wine industry.

“I was able to spend time in the Marlborough region when wines such as Cloudy Bay took off. That certainly helped me to understand New World wines, and the difference terroir (where vines grow) makes to a wine,” he explained.

“For formal dinners in naval bases I was able to match wines with the food being served, sometimes for banquets for up to 300 people with VIP guests. I was lucky to be able to call upon some very old and well stocked Navy wine cellars, such as those in Greenwich, which had wines dating back decades.

“It mean that I could taste wines that otherwise would be well beyond the pockets of almost anybody. For example, once I was asked to sell a couple of old cases of port at Sotheby’s to raise funds for the officers’ mess. The cases dated back to 1945, one of the best years for port, and they went for around £1,000 a bottle -and that was in the 1980s. Fortunately we had kept a few bottles back, so we were able to still sample that vintage!

“People often discover a wine they like and stick to that – for me the challenge is to get them to understand how a different wine can enhance the dish they are eating. It’s not wine snobbery but understanding the diversity of wines and what they bring to a meal.”

Ironically, Rev Robinson also appeared as a strict chapel minister in BBC TV show Snowdonia 1890, where local families aimed to recreate life in Victorian North Wales. As firebrand preacher Eliseus Owen in the pulpit of Drws-y-Coed Chapel in Nantlle Valley, he urged his flock to sign the pledge against drinking alcohol.

Formally opened by Prince Charles in July 2012, Bodnant Welsh Food centre at Furnace Farm, Tal-y-cafn, in the Conwy valley, has its own dairy making cheese and ice cream, plus an on-site bakery and butchery, with award-winning pies. There’s also a wine store and tea rooms plus the Hayloft restaurant and farmhouse accommodation.

Charities wanting to benefit from the wine-tasting event at Bodnant with Rev Marcus Wyn Robinson should call the centre on 01492 651100, or visit www.bodnant-welshfood.co.uk