Mud-smeared bottles rescued from flooded wine cellars: for vintners in the Ahr wine-growing region of Rhineland-Palatinate, they represent hope for a new beginning after the devastating floods in July.
GERMANY (Bad Neuenahr-Ahrweiler) – “After we had recovered the bottles, we had to think about what to do with them – we can’t just throw them away,” Linda Kleber, initiator of the “flood wine” initiative, tells the press. The idea came to her when she carried the smeared wine bottles from her devastated restaurant – one after the other. Thousands of bottles of wine produced in the region are now for sale despite the adverse conditions – just as they are, full of earth, mud splashes and with torn labels – as symbols of the disaster. They are truly unique pieces.
The proceeds, over 2.2 million euros as things stand, “give us enormous hope, the entire winegrowing community, but also the restaurateurs,” says Peter Kriechel, a 38-year-old vintner and chairman of the local winegrowers’ association, Ahrwein e.V. He was immediately enthusiastic about Kleber’s idea. Kriechel himself had about 200,000 bottles of wine in his warehouse when the flood came on the night of July 14-15. “I think we’re in for a long marathon ahead,” Kriechel says. “Whereas actions like flood wine help give us a kick start.”
The Ahr Valley is known for its Pinot Noir, whose vines grow along the steep valley slopes. The regional economy relies on wine growing and the tourists who travel there for it. “Without wine, the Ahr Valley would not exist and certainly not the Ahr Valley gastronomy,” says Jörg Kleber, the husband of “Flutwein” initiator Linda Kleber.
Dead, destroyed existences, hopes and helps
In total, the flood disaster, which killed 225 people in Europe, 187 of them in Germany, destroyed between five and ten percent of the vineyard area in the Ahr Valley. Paul Schuhmacher is among those who lost a lot. “That was no normal flood, that was a tsunami,” the 63-year-old vintner recounts. Just before the water hit his place, Schuhmacher rushed downstairs to check that the wine barrels were properly sealed. “I ran into the cellar with a giant hammer,” he recalls. He then fled with his wife to an apartment on the second floor of his home, but the water was soon more than a meter high. The only option left was to flee to the roof, where the Schuhmacher couple held out until the early hours of the morning. Half a hectare of his five-hectare cultivated area was destroyed. The first floor of his house, where his wine tavern was also located, is still covered with a layer of mud. Nevertheless, the longtime vintner firmly plans to produce a wine again this year.
Whether wine can be made in Ahrweiler itself this year is still completely unclear, but vintners from neighboring regions have promised to help with harvesting and production. Faced with the worst natural disaster in Germany for decades, the German government has already allocated aid money amounting to several hundred million euros. The Ahr Valley will nevertheless never be “as it was before,” say the pessimists in unison. “Quite a few, from what we hear, will move away from the Ahr,” Schuhmacher says. “They will no longer build their houses.“
The Klebers continue
For the Kleber couple, that’s out of the question, even though all that’s left of their restaurant in the center of Ahrweiler is a ruin. Kitchen, bar, dining room, garden: After the cleanup, nothing remains at “Kleber’s” except the walls, where a brown mud trail marks the unimaginable height the flood reached.
“We’d had a good summer with Corona and were able to get a little something set aside,” says Kleber, who is a chef by trade. But two years of Corona were “nothing” against an hour of high water. Despite everything, there will be a new Kleber’s, the chef promises. “We have our friends here, our lives,” and after the disaster, he says, they have only become more rooted. So they will “certainly not move away from here now.”
Buying a flood wine and/or making a donation will help the affected Ahr vintners. More on the topic at: www.flutwein.de