Wine from Germany’s flood zone gives hope for the future
Published on: Amended:
Bad Neuenahr-Ahrweiler (Germany) (AFP)
In the Ahr Valley, mud-stained bottles recovered from flooded cellars represent hope for a new beginning after the deadly disaster that hit Germany three weeks ago.
“I told myself that we could not throw everything away,” recalls Linda Kleber, founder of the “Flutwein” initiative (“Flood wine”).
Kleber came up with the idea as she was collecting bottle after bottle from her flood-ravaged restaurant store.
The vintages that have been saved are now offered for delivery in the condition in which they were found: covered with silt, a singular memory of the devastation caused by the floods.
The money raised, more than two million euros to date, is “a source of hope for all winegrowers and also for the hotel sector”, explains Peter Kriechel, 38, himself a winegrower and president of the association of local professional winegrowers.
In his cellar, around 200,000 bottles of wine were immersed on the night of June 14.
“I think we are at the start of a long marathon,” he said. “An initiative like ‘Flutwein’ could give us a boost.”
– ‘A tsunami’ –
In the Ahr Valley, known for the Pinot Noir which grows on its steep slopes, the economy relies heavily on viticulture and the tourism it generates.
“Without wine, the Ahr Valley would not exist, let alone its gastronomy,” says Joerg Kleber, Linda’s husband.
In total, last month’s disaster claimed the lives of 225 people across Europe, including 187 in Germany, and destroyed 5-10% of Ahr wines.
But the damage to machinery and cellars was much greater, with many farms badly affected or almost completely destroyed.
Paul Schumacher, 63, is among those whose losses have been significant.
“It was not just a flood but a tsunami,” explains the producer.
Just before the waters got to his door, Schumacher came down to make sure his wine barrels were properly sealed.
He and his wife then took refuge 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 its five hectares of land has been devastated. The ground floor of his house, where he also had a restaurant, is still completely covered in mud.
However, the veteran still hopes to harvest his grapes and produce this year’s vintage. Wine production in the Ahrweiler region remains highly uncertain, but neighboring producers have offered to step in to help bring in this year’s harvest.
– ‘Many will leave’ –
Faced with one of the greatest natural disasters that Germany has known in recent decades, Angela Merkel’s government has already signed emergency aid worth several hundred million euros to go to those most in need.
The aid will be supplemented by a reconstruction project, at an additional cost of several billion.
However, locals believe that the valley will never be the same again. “Many will leave and will not rebuild their homes,” says wine producer Schumacher.
This is an option the Kleber family did not think about for a moment, although their restaurant in the center of Ahrweiler will not reopen in the same location.
The kitchen, bar, dining room and garden of ‘Kleber’s’ have more or less disappeared after a two-week cleaning operation. Only the mud painted walls remain up to the high water mark.
“Things were starting to start again” after months of forced shutdown due to the pandemic, deplores Joerg Kleber, head of the profession.
But the coronavirus was “nothing” compared to the forces that swept through Ahrweiler within hours on the night of the floods, he said.
There will be a new ‘Kleber’s’ nearby, the cook promises.
“Our friends and our life are here,” he says. “After this disaster, our roots here may even be stronger than they were before.”
© 2021 AFP