Meet Your Maker: Endre Demeter

This is Endre Demeter, one of Tokaj’s hippest winemakers, who jacked in his career in law to return to Demetervin, his family’s historical wine estate, in Mád, Hungary.

A motorcycle racing enthusiast, Endre’s winemaking is modern, ingenious and empirical. Responsible for recovering some of Tokaj’s natural treasures, Endre and his family were some of the first people to open Tokaj to its neighbouring countries 20 years ago. This region might be historical but it suffered under extreme communist political measures in the last century, which completely closed and destroyed many great vineyards and replaced them with mines.

Today, however, it’s fortunately a different story and we can see the huge effort they have put into recovering the area and recuperating their heritage. The family has expanded from three hectares to eight and Demetervin produces excellent dry wines that really express the typicity of autochthonous varieties Furmint, Harslevelu and Muskateller as well as Mád’s unique volcanic land and, of course, they make  traditional noble rot sweet wines as well as their own sparkling wine.

Where did you study and what were you doing before creating your personal project?

I’m 40 and still a student. My first degree was law, but I always wanted to be either a mechanic or a viticulturist. Both happened. At the University of Miskolc, St. Petersburg, where I undertook my research and taught, I use my agricultural engineer degree, since it is a mining university, the first of its kind on the continent. I share this information because it was founded by the same king, Carl III, who closed the Tokaj region two years later in 1737. 

To be serious, lifelong learning is important to keep up in order to make great things happen, as far as I understand.

Where is your winery situated?

Our family winery is in Mád, the heart of Tokaj region in northeastern Hungary. This region is one of the most important in the Old World, producing great natural sweet wines that have been valued since the Middle Ages. Besides our climate and local grape varieties, we also have volcanic soil, and my village is one of the most important of the 27 World Heritage wine regions. 

We cultivate on erupted volcanic rocks and we have a lot of historical “Grand Cru” vineyards. For the past 20 years, this type of soil has been giving us very interesting dry wines too.

Define yourself personally and professionally?

I am covered neck to toe with 4,000-year-old traditional tattoos. I have loved racing motorcycles since I was a little child and in my wines you find the traditional me who also loves to experiment in an almost explosive way. 

Explosive soul.

What made you fall in love with winemaking?

Nature, first of all. I have been attracted to it since I was a kid. The respect and friendship of smart people I got to know. And yes, beautiful ladies, who laugh when they taste your wines. I think it is important to admire beauty if you want to make nice wines, or seek perfection.

How did you decide to start your project?

I was born in Hungary and my dad had vineyards for a hobby. That’s why when I was a kid I had the chance to working and and I enjoyed helping in the vineyards. Later I decided to study at the WSET school in Hungary. That made me quickly understand that Mád is among the most important wine villages on this planet and my academic studies mean I now know the scientific explanation for that.

Do you have a professional dream?

My dreams have become a little simpler but they haven’t changed a bit. I want to be a respected member among my happy family, vignerons from the area and kids, which will be the next generation in a greatly successful wine village, Mád.

Which season of the year do you prefer?

Spring is the greatest. Every year I can hardly believe the amount of energy flowing in the vineyards. I could write endless stories about my happy days in plantations. 


With which other producer would you like to make a wine?

I have good and talented friends who I respect greatly, so it’s a tough question to make me pick one. It did already happen numerous times with experiments, but otherwise it’s forbidden by customs and legal regulations to mix products between companies. But who knows, rules are made by us, the people.

Do you have any own rules you follow to produce wine?

I work with science and build machines for a hobby, so people talk about me as an extremely experimental person – in fact it’s quite the miracle I’ve never blown myself up. But the funny part is that I try to follow the oldest and cleanest origins of Tokaj books (which I love to collect), so the truth is that I’m really an old school guy. 

Yes, science is good, so we think a lot and try new things, but the outcome is how our ancestors knew much more than we do now. 

So maybe I have two rules: stay true and be transparent, and respect and love your vines (I’m a viticulturist) and clients (with the best wines you can possibly make, no matter what it costs you). To be honest, these hard rules are easy for me, because I don’t have a boss. 

Classic morning fog , responsible for the appearance of noble rot.

Who helped you get to be who you are today? 

It’s mother’s day, so my mom. She is great, and a good friend. 

Surely Mr. Szepsy was the first and most important person to become a winemaker. His belief in Tokaj also captured me. 

Ede Tiffán from Villány poured me my first really good wine, on my 18th birthday if I remember correctly. 

But Tibor Gál, a friend of my father’s, who introduced me to Gabor Orosz, the first winemaker “boss” and a friend of mine. 

Janos Arvay taught me to love plants, Géza Lenkey the faith in your belief, Károly Áts the pure professionalism of winemaking as well as the big picture.

With these teachers it was easy, that’s what they said at horticultural university. 

There I met Levente Major, who showed me the path of “deep” earth science, geology in university standards. And I’ve known Ádám Hoffmann for a couple of years, in whom I see a bright future. But there are way more people who have had a great influence on me, for sure.

How do you make your wines reach the sensitivity of many people?

I don’t make much wine, only 12,000 to 15,000 bottles from eight hectares, which is around the lowest possible yield, so I don’t have to convince any one, because even this ugly, rude tattooed guy can sell this small amount. The senses are touched by the place we are cultivating. Success is measured if we are able to preserve and present it to people. That’s why all my vineyards are registered organic, a huge amount of preserved bush vines, majority pressed by old hand presses, aged in local oak, which isn’t easy but it’s the right way and we strongly believe in it.

Szamorodni ageing.

Could you tell me your biggest adventure as a wine producer?

Wine is full of adventures, we all know that. Especially because of the people you get to meet. All around Europe, you can enjoy with great professionals like Fritz Haag, or Peter Besenyei, in my opinion the most famous Hungarian, who respected my work and became my friend over the years. On the other hand, cultivating steep bush vineyards is a challenge, it’s an extreme sport filled with adventures every day. 

What’s the last thing you have learned and would like to share?

To use the scythe properly, after so many years, I’m so proud to get a compliment from a real old expert in the village, finally.

What do you feel when you create and drink wine?

Creation is the biggest achievement. And you know it will make other people happy. We very rarely drink our wines, except while we are making it.

Endre in Budapest.

What is the biggest difficulty you face today with your job?

Probably trades are the biggest challenge, but lately (right before the virus) I seemed to be successful. 

What do you think about biodynamic viticulture and natural wine?

I truly believe in these, and since the very beginning of my professional life I got the chance to meet biodynamic practices; I was one of the first in my country to join this way of working and belief. 

I see many disadvantages for natural wine as a trend, for underground punk guys, as I don’t like fashionable things. And I don’t like it when the discussion gets very unprofessional, being a person of science. But it will soon come to an end, and just like being tattooed, being bio will fall out of style. 

Taking into account how the Covid-19 is affecting all areas, what adjustments and changes have you made so far and how do you see it from here to harvest?

In these hard times we actually hired two new guys, because they are good workers. The vineyards truly don’t care about the virus – they have their own life cycle – and that’s what matters to me. In my profession you have to understand that. And be positive, never lose hope.

How do you see the trend of wine 10 years from now in your country?

Tokaj has to return to the wine world to where it belongs. That position is known by every professional. The problem is marketing and trends, but again, we’ve seen hard days in 600 years of the region’s history, and we objectively know our place. So we just have to wait, hope not more than a couple of years, because I’d like to have a family one day. 

Demeter’s cellar.

Please choose one of your wines and tell us what food would you enjoy it with?

My biggest favourite is Úrágya57 Furmint, our flagship among drys, with true minerality, and I’m very proud to be able to cultivate this wonderful parcel of vines. It was planted on the top of Úrágya hill in 1921, so I’m organizing the 100th birthday party of “old guys” bush vines. I love them. The surprise is that it’s not me, but all the professionals saying that it goes very well with lamb or serious meals, and it should be decanted. This year it was served at GL50 Restaurant in Cheltenham, which was a real pleasure, as was hearing how much the guests enjoyed it. These are those special days making your work worth it.

Ph: Joan Casajuana.

Check out last week’s #MeetYourMaker, when Come Wine spoke to Armando Guerra of Bodegas Barbadillo in Sanlúcar de Barrameda, Jerez.

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