Germany’s wine country calculates the cost of devastating summer floods

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Peter Kriechel still couldn’t believe what happened to Marienthal. The once picturesque village in the Ahr Valley in western Germany is now a muddy, fragmented ruin—trees are uprooted, bridges are destroyed, and houses collapsed.

The damage was caused last month Devastating floodThis is one of the worst blows that Germany has suffered since World War II.More than 180 people have died, dozens of people are still missing, and hundreds of people are homeless in this disaster that is pushing climate change to the world Top priority of the political agenda.

The flood also destroyed the industry that made the Aar Valley famous: winemaking.

Kriechel, the head of the Ahrwein Trade Association, points to the empty space in the village that was once a vineyard. “Those vines have stood for hundreds of years. Now they are all gone,” he said.

When the tragedy of July 14 occurred, heavy rain turned the Ahr River and several other rivers in the area into turbulent torrents, washed away houses, roads and railway lines, and left dozens of grief-stricken communities. The locals are now clearing up the mess-in towns and villages that still lack electricity, running water and the Internet, this is a daunting task.

But in the Aar Valley, the cleanup has a special urgency. In addition to burying the dead and supporting dilapidated houses, local wine producers are still working day and night to prepare for the grape harvest in six weeks, which will be the key to their survival.

Compared with before the flood, the future has become more uncertain. About 50 million euros worth of wine was lost-but this is just the tip of the iceberg. “And all the machines, filters and presses,” said Krichell, who estimated that 15 hectares of vines were destroyed out of the total 560 hectares of grape cultivation.

All of this caused headaches for Matthias Baltes and others, his managing director Meshos-Altenar, Germany’s oldest wine cooperative, located near Marienthal.

“In the eight weeks before harvest, protecting the vines from fungal infections is crucial. But we now lack the equipment to do so,” he said.

The scale of the loss of the family-owned vineyard Meyer-Näkel near Dernau is obvious. Dörte Näkel, one of the two sisters who run the company, wrote on Facebook that its cellars and collections of aged wines are “submerged in mud.” “Almost all of our old oak barrels have drifted away, as are most of our tanks, and our wine press has been transported for miles.” She said that the estate “has nothing.”

Wine lovers have long known Ahr, and its excellent Pinot Noir wine-known as Spätburgunder in Germany-enjoys international acclaim. The secret of its quality lies in the slate-rich soil of Ahr, which retains the heat of the sun and transmits it to the vines at night.

“Wine is everything here. Our whole world revolves around it,” said Baltes of Mayschoss-Altenahr. “Every family is involved-producing or selling it, or working in the restaurant that provides it.” Before the floods, the local hotel industry had been affected by the pandemic-related lockdown.

Trucks remove debris from wrecked houses in Ahr River Village in Marienthal © Christian Stache / AFP / Getty

The fifth-generation wine merchant Alexander Stodden, who runs the Jean Stodden estate in nearby Rech, said that nearly 20% of his 9 hectares of land had been destroyed, resulting in 1.5 million euros. Loss. Those barrels that were not washed away were covered with a film of oil from the contaminated flood, which he feared might contaminate the wine inside.

His business has strong international connections and will continue to exist. “I am more worried about smaller producers,” he said. “Now the local hotels and restaurants are gone, what do they do?”

He investigated the ruins of Rech and added: “This is what the war looks like.”

The silver lining is huge support from other wine regions in Germany.

Volunteers poured in from the Moselle and Nahe Valleys to provide help to help defoliation and pruning the vines before next month’s harvest. They brought tractors, forklifts and small tracked vehicles designed to handle steep slopes and vines.

“The solidarity shown by the people is shocking,” Stoden said. “Civil society is obviously much better than people think.”

Peter Kriechel, winemaker Linda and Jorg Kleber from the
Krichel (middle) is one of the behind-the-scenes planners of the “Flutwein” project, which aims to sell mud-covered bottles and the proceeds will be donated to flood victims © Bernd Lauter/AFP/Getty

The locals also proposed imaginative forms of self-help. Peter Kriechel is “Flood wine“—Or “flood wine”—a plan to sell muddy bottles recovered from flooded cellars, and the proceeds will go to flood victims. It was established two weeks ago and has raised more than 2.5 million euros.

Also got help from abroad. Stoughton said that his Singapore wine dealer auctioned a dozen bottles of 2014 Pinot Noir and transferred all the proceeds to his account.

However, the trauma of July 14 will remain in the memories of the locals. Krichel still recalled an “indescribable” night-roaring floods, broken windows, fallen trees, and the cry for help from the children trapped on the roof. “I can’t get rid of it,” he said.

Vintners without flood insurance are now facing a financial crisis, and many are considering giving in. Although he has suffered a loss-a quarter of his bottled wine has been sold out, with approximately 40,000 liters in barrels-Krichell said he will not give up.

“My family has been making wine here for nearly 500 years,” he said. “We can’t stop now.”

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