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Natural disaters continue to batter the wine industry as floods hit Germany

It’s been a bad months for winemakers across the global with a series of natural disasters hitting the wine industry from floods in Germany to droughts in California, and wildfires in British Columbia. 

Floods in Germany

Last week saw flash floods wreak havoc in wineries and vineyards in the west of Germany, with around two months of rain falling in just 24 hours, the national meteorological agency, the Deutscher Wetterdienst, said.

The Ahr Valley in Middle Mosel was particularly badly affected, notably around Ahrweiler, and the surrounding villages of Mayschoss and Dernau. The river Ahr, which is a tributary of the Rhine, lies in a steep valley with many of the surrounding slopes planted with Pinot Noir (locally known as Spätburgunder). Although the region is used to wet weather and occasional flooding, the sheer amoung of water falling in such a short time was overwhelming, locals reported.  Vineyards from Trier on the Mosel river to Saarburg on the Saar river were also affected.

Click here to view the dreadful damage wrought across the Ahr Valley.

According to the German Wine Institute (DWI) barrels, bottles, equipment and machinery in Ahr were swept away by the flood water, devastating wine-producing businesses and affecting the livelihoods of many producers. Utilities such as water, electricity and mobile networks were also down.

The DWI said it would take weeks to assess the full extent of the damage and rebuild, but it working with the wine industry organisations in the Ahr region to help the people affected. As well as cleaning up the damage and rebuilding, winegrowers are likely to need extra help in the vineyards given the lack of machinery, as well as somewhere to press and ferment the wines when it comes to harvest time.

Winemakers in less badly affected regions have rallied around to help and have also made numerous wine donations, which will be sold to benefit the wine producers of the Ahr.

“Many growers from different wine regions are already on site with forklifts, vineyard tractors or pumps to save what can still be saved,” the DWI said. “External helpers are also on duty to help with any urgently needed vineyard work in order to secure the upcoming vintage.”

The DWI has launched a fundraising appeal on its website, with the proceed being donated to the Farmers and Winegrowers’ Association of Rhineland-Nassau, which has the Ahr Winegrowing Association under its auspices.

“This way, the proceeds from the numerous aid campaigns can directly benefit the Ahr winegrowers, who urgently and un-bureaucratically need money for the reconstruction of their businesses, which will certainly take a long time,” a statement from the DWI said.

Increasing natural disasters

The German floods have again highlighted the problems facing winemakers from natural disasters, which are putting winemakers under increasing financial pressure, and sending insurance premiums rocketing.

2021 has been a difficult year, with France and Spain being battered by freak hail storms in early June. Vineyards in the Loire, particularly at Vouvray, and Ribera del Duero suffered the worst damage – according to regional Spanish newspaper El Norte de Castilla, around 10% of Ribera del Duero was affected (2,000 hectares). This came on top of an already challenging spring, following widespread frost damage in early April, which affected large swathes of Northern Europe, and freak storms that hit Bordeaux and the Medoc in mid April. It was reported that the damage to budding vines could have cost the French wine industry as much as €2 billion this year, although reported that the French government had promised to provide financial support for uninsured vignerons who had lost crops during this year’s vintage.

Meanwhile, across the Atlantic, fires have been raging in Oregon and British Columbia, where a state of emergency has been declared and vineyards in the Okanagan Valley have had to be evacuated, and there have been droughts and scorching temperature across California. The New York Times last week reported that wineries in Napa were becoming uninsureable due to the threat of wildfires.

As the drinks business investigated in April, winemakers have been increasingly looking at ways to mitigate the impact of these natural disasters, whether hail, drought, wildfires or even earthquakes.

Read more:

Kicking up a storm: the impact of natural disasters on wine production 


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