There are few places in Hungary where the country’s history can be followed through the history of a cellar. But Dereszla Winery is one of them. The first known written mention of this Bodrogkeresztúr cellar was in the early-15th century (1406) when an inventory reports that cellars owned by King Sigismund were used to collect and store wine offered as part of the tithes. Perhaps it is no coincidence that they are held among the most famous wines on earth whether dry or botrytised. Located on the border of two villages, Bodrogkeresztúr and Bodrogkisfalud, Dereszla Winery has an equally outstanding winemaker. István Bai joined the company in 2015, and his story is at least as interesting as that of the cellar.
“I was born into it all. Vines were everything to my grandfather and as I spent a lot of time with him in my childhood, I could watch it all. Grafting, crossing, what, why and how. That’s what I watched and was interested in. My older sister and I were in the vineyards a lot and so we simply fell in love with it,” said István Bai who does not deny that he tasted a lot of bad wine as a child. “I didn’t understand how they could drink them… Then after we came into it all the wines became better and better. Actually, when I tasted Aszú, I began to understand the point, the essence, and to differentiate between wines.”
István had to quickly grow into the winemaking tasks. “My father became ill when I was about 10, 12 years old – right before the harvest time – and our grandparents were already older, and there wasn’t really anyone else in the family who could take his place in the vineyards so my sister and I undertook the harvest together. At the age of 12 I jumped into the tractor seat, we brought the harvesters and that was the moment when I felt we’d done it. The final result was good too, so somehow I felt that this would be my path.”
Although after college came a rebellious period when he turned towards gastronomy, after a year he realised that he missed the vines, the vineyards and nature and transferred to study oenology. “I started to work as soon as I finished college, but I felt I was wanting something more and looked around for a new challenge. I was fascinated by the botrytis world of the Moser Rieslings so I went to Germany and thanks to enormous luck was given a job in a world-famous German winery (Dr. Loosen). I learnt German in about a month, after three months I was a group leader, then after six months I was already working in the winery and was the right hand of the head winemaker for two years.”
After coming back home he found his place at Dereszla. “I saw huge potential in the winery. Increase in quality production has happened at an incredible pace – the 20 000 bottles produced at the beginning now seem negligible compared to the nearly one million in recent years. Now the latest challenge is making Pezsgő (methode traditionelle sparkling wine). So it represents another great exciting task,” added the winemaker who is still a fan of Rieslings from the Rhine though he certainly also counts a clean Furmint among his favourites.