On February 14, 1977, Stephen Skelton sowed the seeds of what would become a life-long love affair.
Even Prince and Princess of Wales are fans - with Chapel Down's sparkling wine served at William and Kate's wedding in 2011.
Over the decades, Stephen has had a significant role in many of the county's vineyards - a go-to figure with an almost unrivalled knowledge and experience in all stages of the winemaking process.
One of his most recent vineyards that he has helped with is Domaine Evremond, majority owned by iconic Champagne producer Taittinger, in Chilham, between Ashford and Canterbury. He's also planted all the vines for the Balfour Winery on the Hush Heath estate in Staplehurst.
Yet his route into the world of viticulture was far from linear - in fact it was by mere coincidence he would meet the person who would lead him, inadvertently, into an industry he has become the godfather of.
Like the best wines, his story is a blend of love, hard work and good fortune. Now 74, the Master of Wine - the highest professional rank within the industry - scoffs when I ask if retirement from the industry with which he has become synonymous is on the horizon.
"I'm still helping people in a number of different ways," he explains, "mainly planting new vineyards and finding sites for people and recommending them, consulting on existing vineyards people want to buy. Everything around vineyards, and I sell vines as well.
"I am trying to take it easier, but I'm having to turn work down if anything at the moment as I've got so much on."
I'm lucky to get hold of him. A week or so before we speak he had broken his ankle - something which has left him confined to barracks and able to spend time talking to the likes of me in-between updating his various books and guides (a tome called 'Viticulture - A guide to commercial grape growing for wine production' has sold more than 10,000 copies and recently been translated into Chinese and Japanese).
"Some people look at me and say I've had a charmed life - and to a certain extent, they're right, I have," he admits.
Having grown up in Chelmsford - his father ran a business in the City - his life was set on a very different path when he was job hunting after emerging from college.
"I can trace it all back to an advert in the Daily Telegraph," he recalls. "It said 'bright lad wanted, experience not as essential as a willingness to learn'. I answered the advert and got a job at a wharf and warehousing company in Gravesend.
"The guy who I worked for was organising a skiing holiday and asked if I wanted to come. I'd never been before in my life, so I thought why not?
"So we went off to Austria, walked into the hotel and lo and behold the receptionist was a lovely blonde girl. I thought she was Austrian, but actually she was from Tenterden and spoke good German.
"She came back - she was only out there for a season - and we got together in the May of 1970."
He and Linda married in September 1971 when he was 23.
Linda's father was John Leroy, son of Lewis Leroy - the founder of the long-running and very successful Tunbridge Wells-based coach company Leroy Tours.
Using money made from the firm, John Leroy stepped back at 40 and became a farmer, buying the large Morghew Park Estate in Tenterden. His focus was dairy and arable.
"When I came along as a son-in-law," Stephen recalls, "he offered me a job and I went to work for him - he had a small property company - then I went to see a house for sale in Nettlestead in 1973 when our first child was born. We wanted a bigger house - we lived in a very small cottage in Headcorn - and it had a little vineyard attached.
"We didn't buy the house, but I looked up and saw there was an English Vineyards Association. Eventually I joined it and that was really the start of it."
Lady Luck would smile upon him again when his father-in-law said he would support him in his desire to plant a vineyard.
Steohen explains: "Having got the bug, I went to Germany where all our grape varieties came from in those days, and the style of wine we made was German.
"So I got a job in a vineyard and winery in the Rhinegau - which is Germany's premier winegrowing region, just outside Frankfurt. I worked there for a year, learnt German, and went to college."
The college was the Geisenheim Grape Breeding Institute - a world-renowned centre of excellence in viticulture. There he trained under Professor Helmut Becker, "a very helpful professor who spoke very good English as he'd been banged up in an American PoW camp when he was 15 and swore like a trooper".
He adds: "Then this farm came up for sale in Tenterden.
"My father-in-law had wanted to buy it as it was adjacent to his estate. It was 170 acres. He said there was some lovely land on it and that it would be great for growing hops, fruit and ideal for vines.
"A very good soil scientist did a survey of it and it was sent out to me in Germany, and it said something like 'I cannot think of a finer site in the whole of the South East' for viticulture.
"Much buoyed up by this, we came back in August 1976, saw the site, we personally agreed to buy a house on the farm and my father-in-law bought the rest of it.
"We moved in on February 14, 1977, Valentine's Day. We started planting our first vines on the Easter Monday."
That farm is what, today, is known as the Chapel Down vineyard.
At the time the English - or Kent - wine industry "not that anyone called it that then" was very much in its infancy and, says Stephen, "the preserve of crusty old major-generals, wealthy farmers and a scattering of military retirees".
"There were local vineyards who were knocking out wines which were awful..."
About 500 acres (equivalent to 283 football pitches) was dedicated to vines when he first started out. Today the figures is close to 12,000 (the size of 6,800 football pitches).
"The wine was terrible at the time," he says of the industry when he first entered it. "I don't want to name any names - but there were local vineyards who were knocking out wines which were awful.
"I didn't really like any English wines before we started making it. I don't know why, I just reckoned I could do better.
"I've got a good sense of taste and palate. I thought why not? It was crazy really."
Crazy or not, two years later its first harvest helped create 5,000 bottles of wine. The year after, however, saw a major breakthrough.
"In 1980," he explains, "we had a small crop, our second vintage, but I made a wine which won the Gore-Browne Trophy, for the English Wine of the Year."
The success attracted the attention of the Sunday Times who sent wine writer Jancis Robinson - then on one of her first assignments, now one of the world's best known wine writers - to do a three-page features in its magazine.
"We felt we'd arrived," Stephen recalls.
"I saw Hugh Johnson, another very well known wine writer the other night and he says, still, that our 1980 award-winner was one of the nicest English wines he's ever tasted.
"They sold for what seems like a ridiculously high price even now - £4.75 (the equivalent of £25 today) was the price of our award-winning wine. And that was 45 years ago."
"The bank manager told us if we wanted a bigger overdraft he wanted the deeds to the house..."
More awards would follow, but the financial strain of winemaking was beginning to bite.
"Once we started selling wine and had tours our name got known. We had a nice little business there. Half of me says we should have carried on, but eventually we sold it.
"There were various reasons. My father-in-law was moving on and wanted to sell up and live in Scotland to buy a bigger farm there.
"And we ran out of capital. The bank manager told us if we wanted a bigger overdraft he wanted the deeds to the house. We thought maybe this isn't such a good idea."
He sold the vineyard "for a good price at the time" but was retained as a consultant.
It was a role which he enjoyed and came without the financial burden of keeping the business afloat. After 22 vintages, he handed over control.
The site would go through a number of owners before, in 1995 it was bought by Chapel Down. He would become a director and was making wine there until 2000.
"It's lovely for me that the place I chose and sweated over is still part of on-going English wine industry and part of the biggest wine business in the country, pretty much," he says.
He spent spells as winemaker and general manager at Lamberhurst Vineyard before setting up in business himself.
"When we sold the vineyard I said to my wife - we divorced in 1996 - I'm never going to have an overdraft and I'm never going to have any employees. And I've stuck to that since 1986.
"If I want jobs done, I know people who can help."
As the wine industry has grown, so has his workload - scoping out sites, planting vines and assisting in the winemaking process to many of the county, and country's, leading vineyards.
He moved out of the county in 2000 to London - today residing in Parsons Greens in Fulham.
So just what is the secret of success to Kent's flourishing winemaking industry?
"It's surrounded by sea, so the frost issues are not so bad as inland sites. It's got some lovely soil for growing conditions.
"But the change in varieties is totally down to climate change.
"From the late 1990s onwards, the climate really started to show and the sugar levels rose, the quality rose, and people started to take notice.
"I grew pinot noir and chardonnay varieties in 1980 and they never ripened."
It may be one of the very few advantages of the concerning shift in our climate.
So as he reflects on a lifetime in the industry, is he proud of the significant role he has played?
"I'm pleased something I had a little part of has become so successful. I'm one of people involved in this the longest.
"There were people before me - 30 to 40 growers who I knew well across England - but I could learn from their mistakes. And the biggest was they chose the wrong site.
"They didn't have the luxury of picking their site - they already had their farms. I spend my life now looking at sites for people and probably rejecting well over half.
"But the scope for expansion in Kent is massive. You could replace most of the hops and dessert apples with vines in the country. There's no way of stopping it.
"There's ups and downs with the economy and labour, but I'm pretty confident viticulture will continue to expand.
"We've only scratched the service.
"Wine expert Bartholomew Broadbent recently said that the Gusbourne Blanc de Blancs [created in Appledore] is an equal to Dom Pérignon and Taittinger's top of the range wines - these are wines costing £200-300 a bottle. I never thought I'd hear that."
As for the future? Stephen Skelton MW is, needless to say, planting a big vineyard in Kent later this year. Only's he's sworn to secrecy as to where.
Few would bet against it being another of his successes.