By Pamela Spence
(from the AMA Journal, Summer 1987)
West Virginia, the state known as "almost heaven" comes a little closer to divinity through the efforts of Dr. Ferenc (Frank) Androczi. At his Little Hungary Farm Winery in Buckhannon, the retired professor produces melomel, a mead made from fruit juices and honey.
Beekeeping and winemaking are a family tradition for Androczi. In his native Hungry, both his father and grandfather kept bees and made "the best honey wine in the world." The odyssey from Budapest to the hills of West Virginia is an archtypical American story. Imprisoned in a forced labor camp during the Communist takeover in 1952, Androczi escaped and fled to America, leaving behind family and friends. He earned a masters degree in library science at Syracuse University and was rare book cataloger at the Universities of Pittsburg and Detroit. In the spring of 1967, he was invited to intdrview for a teaching position at West Virginia Wesleyan College. He fell in love with the state and with the idea of becoming a vintner. "As I was driving in the beautiful Hilly-Billy sides of 'Almost Heaven, West Virginia', the crab apples and redbuds were blooming everywhere and wild foxgrapes climbing on all the trees. And I was wondering why my old countryman Agoston Haraszty 200 years earlier missed this place and go to California to establish the first vineyards. This country must be perfect for beekeeping and grapes growing. (I decided that) if I get the job here I am going to start beekeeping and grapes growing in this almost heaven country. However, my old Rambler steamingly over Morgantown called, is almost Hell. At the time, we didn't yet have the Interstate." Dr. Androczi got the job, bought some land and began to recreate his lost dreams of Hungry. "All that ! have here is what I had in Hungry," he says. 'The first year I planted fruit trees and next spring over a dozen grapes–mostly table grapes because the political climate was not favorable here for winemaking. I thought my beautiful trees deserved a few colonies of bees to pollinate them, so I bought a few hives. I fell in love with my bees (it was easy because they are all female) and soon had over a hundred of colonies, with two or three tons of honey yearly–and more than half of it unsold." As beekeepers have been doing for centuries, Dr Androczi began making mead with his surplus honey. As the political climate began to change in West Virginia and grapegrowers organized to urge passage of the Farm Winery Law, Androczi was busily planting a wide variety of wine grapes–Seyval, Videl, Aurora and Swenson; Chancellor, Foch and St. Croix–and he continued to make mead. "In 1962, I took my honey and Honey-Mead to Jackson Mill State Fair to sell. Pretty soon come the young Magistrator and asked me if I have a license to sell wine. I told him according to new law every fanner in West Virginia can make wine and sell it. He said "Oh no you can't. Now do you want to go home or go to jail?' I said if I have a choice, I'd rather go home." After contacting the State Agricultural Commissioner, Androczi determined to become a licensed winemaker. "I applied for the state permit. They send me a kilogram of papers to fill out. Then after that, you are hoping to receive your license and they will tell you that first you should have the federal license before you can apply for the state permit. You write to the federal authority asking for your license. They will send you another ton of formula and papers. You work for weeks to finish them and wait for weeks, for months for the answer. Finally, your eyes are blissful to find in your mailbox the fat envelope from the Treasury Department–thank God, we made it. When you open it, they tell you your property maps are not acceptable because there is no two inches of margin on them, or a few months later they will tell you your bottle labels are not legal." After two years of mailing forms and receiving no approval, he wrote to President Reagan in desperation. 'These bureaucrats are trying to sabotage your free enterprise," he wrote. Two weeks later, Androczi had his license. The Little Hungry Farm Winery is now a flourishing business. Using an old family recipe, Androczi blends the juices of apples, pears and grapes–all grown on his farm–with honey from his hives. "Mead should be aged for six years to be a good drink. But it you use fruit juice instead of water, you can drink it the next year. If you age it three years, you will have a superior melomel." Following European tradition, he ages his melomel in oak barrels for the full three years. Although the bureaucrats made him remove the claim from his label, Androczi will tell you that mead is a "Fountain of Youth, Health, Strength and Beauty". Literature sent to the inspectors failed to convince them. But at 72, Dr. Ferenc Androczi is a walking advertisment for the invigorating powers of the golden mead.
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