Winemaker's deportation ends dream of Kentish red

Vineyards/ vintage bureaucracy
Click to follow
The Independent Online
AN attempt to grow an English version of Bull's Blood, the famous Hungarian wine, may have to be abandoned - because the Hungarian providing theexpertise faces deportation.

The Department of Employment says that the job should be done by a citizen of the European Union. Alex Kertmegi has been told that he must leave Britain at the end of the month when his three-year visa as a "keyworker" runs out.

The experimental vineyard he runs is composed exclusively of 11 Hungarian vine varieties. Mr Kertmegi's departure now would be a disaster as it will take another two years to establish which varieties best suit the British climate. His employers have been unable to find any EU citizen with the right expertise.

Mr Kertmegi first came to England with his wife in 1989 and took on a part-time job with Richard and Sandra Wadsworth at their farm on the North Downs between Sevenoaks and Tonbridge. This sheltered and sunny sub-region contains such well-known vineyards as Penshurst and Lamberhurst.

Until then, British growers had relied on German growers for advice for their grape varieties. The Wadsworths asked Mr Kertmegi, a graduate of Budapest University's department of viticulture, the best in Eastern Europe, to plant an experimental half-acre of vines.

Frost and chemicals from neighbouring fields destroyed the first selection, but then Mr Kertmegi asked his old university for samples of other hardy vines and ended up with 11 varieties, all chosen because they ripened early.

Black grapes for making red wine are extremely rare in Britain but Mr Kertmegi is trying out a number, including Kekfrankas, which is used for making Bull's Blood, and another early-ripener, Turan.

Other varieties include the romantically named white grape, Treasure of Pannonia, and the hybrid, Suzy. The Hungarians are so enthusiastic about the experiment that they have also given Mr Kertmegi some experimental vines known only by mysterious initials such as KM156 and R58.

Much to the Wadsworths' gratification, most of the varieties have done extremely well, and several have produced ripe grapes the second year after they were planted, a year ahead of schedule.

The English viticultural establishment has welcomed the initiative and Sainsbury's has even offered to take any ripe table grapes the Wadsworths can produce.

The threat to Mr Kertmegi came last month from the Department of Employment, which at first refused to allow the one-year extension often granted in such cases. After protests from the viticulture establishment it has agreed that Mr Kertmegi's case will be examined again.