Wine from Germany’s flood zone gives hope for future
Vines of posterity
Published: Aug 11, 2021 03:33 PM
Wine bottles covered in mud Photo: AFP

Wine bottles covered in mud Photo: AFP

Producers of wine check crates of wine bottles covered in mud recovered from the floods in western Germany, on July 30. Photo: AFP

Producers of wine check crates of wine bottles covered in mud recovered from the floods in western Germany, on July 30. Photo: AFP

 In the Ahr valley, mud-smeared bottles rescued from flooded cellars represent hope for a new beginning after the deadly catastrophe that hit Germany three weeks ago.

"I told myself we couldn't just throw it all away," recalls Linda Kleber, the founder of the "Flutwein" ("Flood wine") initiative.

Kleber came up with the idea as she was retrieving bottle after bottle from the store of her flood-ravaged restaurant.

The vintages that could be saved are now being offered for delivery in the condition they were found: Covered in silt, a singular reminder of the devastation the floods wreaked.

The money raised, more than 2 million euros to date, is "a source of hope for all the winegrowers and also for the hospitality sector," says Peter Kriechel, 38, himself a wine producer and president of the local professional growers' association.

In his cellar, about 200,000 bottles of wine were submerged on the night of June 14.

"I think we're at the start of a long marathon," he says. "An initiative like 'Flutwein' could give us a kickstart."

'A tsunami'

In the Ahr valley, known for the pinot noir that grows on its steep slopes, the economy relies significantly on viniculture and the tourism it generates.

"Without wine, the Ahr valley wouldn't exist - to say nothing of its gastronomy," says Joerg Kleber, husband of Linda.

All in all, last month's disaster claimed the lives of 225 people across Europe, including 187 in Germany, and destroyed five to 10 percent of the wines in Ahr.

But the damage to machines and cellars has been much greater, with many holdings severely impacted or almost entirely destroyed.

Paul Schumacher, 63, is one of those whose losses were great.

"It wasn't just a flood but a tsunami," says the grower.

Just before the waters arrived at his door, Schumacher went down to make sure his barrels of wine were well sealed.

He and his wife then took shelter upstairs, but "the water very quickly rose a meter above the first floor," he says, still visibly affected by what happened. In the end, the couple ended up spending part of the night on the roof.

A tenth of his five hectares of land was devastated. The ground floor of his house, where he also had a restaurant, is still completely coated in mud.

The veteran grower still hopes to harvest his grapes and produce this year's vintage, however. The production of wine in the Ahrweiler region remains very uncertain, but neighboring producers have offered to step in to help bring in 2021's crop.

'Many will leave' 

Facing one of the biggest natural disasters Germany has seen in the last few decades, Angela Merkel's government has already signed off on emergency aid numbering in the hundreds of millions of euros to go to those most in need.?

The aid will be supplemented by a reconstruction project, costing further billions. Locals nonetheless think the valley will never be the same again. "Many will leave and won't rebuild their homes," says ?wine producer Schumacher. It is an option the Kleber family have not thought about for an instant, even if their restaurant in the center of Ahrweiler will not open again on the same spot.