Last week, prolonged and torrential rainfall triggered catastrophic floods throughout western Europe, destroying villages and killing nearly 200 people. Among the hardest hit is the Ahr Valley, a small but renowned wine region in western Germany.
Much of western Germany experienced more than a month’s rainfall within a span of 24 hours. A German meteorologist described the extreme weather event as one unseen in Germany in 500 years.
In Ahrweiler, a stretch of towns and villages dotting the basin of the Ahr River, flash floods swept away homes, businesses, vehicles, bridges, roads and entire communities. Almost 200 people have been confirmed dead in Germany, more than 700 are injured and hundreds more are missing.
“The economic devastation that accompanied the floods was particularly hard felt by the region’s more than 38 wineries, many of whom lost their facilities, cellars, machinery, wine barrels, cellared inventory and more,” wrote the German Wine Institute in a statement published yesterday.
“We got a text in the middle of the night that Meyer-Näkel was destroyed,” says Jenna Fields, president of The German Wine Collection, the winery’s U.S. importer.
With no running water, bridges or roads, not to mention electricity or cell phone reception, the situation in the valley remains dire, says Fields. Her communications with the Näkel family have been limited to scant messages and posts on social media, plus some reports from other winemakers.
According to Fields, the fifth-generation winemakers, sisters Meike and Dörte Näkel, “stayed back to try to save the winery… and ended up getting washed away in the flood.” The sisters were able to stick together “and hold onto a tree, and they stayed in that tree for seven hours until firefighters and a rescue boat could get to them,” says Fields.
“The cellar is gone, and they’ve lost everything, but they’re just grateful to be alive.”
Julia Bertram of Weingut Bertram-Baltes, another prominent Spätburgunder producer in Dernau, announced on Instagram that the winery, its cellar and wines were destroyed.
Fortunately, Bertram, her husband, cofounder Benedikt Baltes, and their family remain safe and without serious injury. Kevin Pike, owner of Schatzi Wines, Bertram-Baltes’ U.S. importer, says that the couple was reunited after Baltes went missing while assisting his family in nearby Mayschoss.
Financial losses for Bertram-Baltes and others in the Ahr will be severe, says Pike.
“They lost their entire 2019 and 2020 vintages,” he says. “It’s not just the barrels and cars or equipment, things where insurance can help to replace… They can’t remake their 2019 or 2020 Pinot, they’ve got nothing to sell for two years.”
Since the floods, winemakers from across Germany have flocked to the region to deliver food, first aid and supplies, and are assisting in the massive clean-up and salvage efforts.
The Verband Deutscher Prädikats- und Qualitätsweingüter (VDP), the German association of quality wine producers, and the German Wine Institute have both established bank accounts to collect donations on behalf of Ahr winegrowers.