After the Catastrophe: Flood for Ahr Winemakers is Not the Only Challenge
In recent weeks, people around the world have been hard hit by extreme weather and its consequences – such as forest fires, flooding or drought. In some regions of Germany and parts of the Netherlands and Belgium, many people were impacted in mid-July by the most catastrophic flooding in many years. A few weeks later, the water has receded in the Ahr Valley – a popular vacation region that has seen the heaviest impact. Yet the visible and unseen effects of the flooding are still far from rectified. Many Bayer employees continue to help out in the area.
Shattered houses, washed-away vehicles and mud-filled cellars and living spaces – when the Ahr rapidly transformed in July from an otherwise quiet river into a raging torrent, it took with it everything that was blocking its path. It will take many years to rebuild and even then, it will never again be the way it once was,” predicts Franz-Josef Christ. He serves as Chairman of the Works Council at Bayer’s Hürth-Knapsack site near Cologne and lives in Ahrbrück. His house stayed dry, but like everyone else in his town, he had no electricity or running water for two weeks.
“Only 500 meters from my home, houses were swept away with people in them – you just can’t imagine it. The images on the news simply can’t convey it all; in reality it was even more catastrophic,” explains Christ, who in the days and weeks since the flooding has provided assistance wherever needed along with neighbors and many other volunteers who have journeyed here from all over Germany.
The willingnes - flood line
Peter Kriechel established the initiative Flutwein.de together with the restaurateur Linda Kleber from “Klebers Küche und Garten“ (Kleber’s Kitchen and Garden) and the association Ahrwein e.V.. The recovered wine is sold through this website to raise funds for the rebuilding effort, assist the affected local population financially and maintain the Ahrweiler region’s reputation as one of Germany’s major wine growing areas.
Willingness to help remains enormous
The willingness to help is enormous. Winegrower Michael Kriechel noticed that in the immediate aftermath of the disaster. Even weeks later, new volunteers are showing up to assist him with cleanup activities at the family-owned Peter Kriechel Winery in Ahrweiler. “People we’ve never met before have made their way here and just want to get down to work. I’ve never seen anything like it before.” They help prune the vines in the vineyards, wash off the muddy bottles of so-called “flood wine” and then package it for shipping.
There are 65 wine growing operations in the Ahr Valley that handle all their own marketing, as well as hundreds of smaller winegrowers who are part of cooperative associations. Of these 65 wine growing operations, 62 have been impacted by the flooding. Michael Kriechel and his brother Peter are the third generation of his family to operate the winery, and their father continues to help out. The 800 square meter cellar housing the full wine casks and bottles as well as all the electric machinery necessary for the vinification process was completely underwater. “The machinery is no longer usable and we’ve lost a lot of wine – not all the casks were able to withstand the high water pressure,” explains Kriechel. “It hurts, but others lost far more. We just have to stay positive about the future and rebuild it all together.” Thanks to the many volunteers and the winery’s staff, some 200,000 bottles were able to be recovered from the muddy cellar. But that’s not the only challenge at the moment.
Downy mildew due to frequent rainfall
“As we were all busy with cleanup work here in the past few weeks, the work in the vineyards was unfortunately neglected throughout the entire Ahr Valley,” Kriechel says. “That’s the big problem we have. Due to the frequent rainfall, we already had an issue with Peronospora, better known as downy mildew, this year. That is a type of fungus that infests our grapevines particularly when times are especially wet.
The fungus was able to further spread while everyone was focused on the cleanup work. “In such weather, the vines have to be regularly treated to stay healthy. To make matters worse, the substantial amount of water enabled weeds to rapidly grow between the vine rows, which meant the grapes underneath the leaves couldn’t dry out at all in some cases.”
That’s why crop protection is now urgently needed. Many helpers in the vineyards are pruning the plants to enable the grapes and leaves to dry out so that crop protection products can then be efficiently applied. This is where Bayer came in: the company provided fungicides free of charge to protect the remaining vine plants from further yield-jeopardizing fungal infestation. Bayer also supplied the winegrowers with protective clothing such as safety gloves and rubber boots. Wherever possible, Bayer employees personally assist the winegrowers in these necessary activities.
One of them is Markus Borkowski, who works in sales for the Crop Science Division and was involved in donating the products to the winegrowers. “Many in this region make a living solely from wine cultivation,” he says. “One of my sons is also a winegrower, albeit in Rhine-Hesse, but powdery and downy mildew don’t care about borders.” Therefore there was no question that he and his sons would help out in the vineyards of the Ahr Valley.
Help will continue be needed in the Ahr Valley
“But it’s not just about material losses,” says Franz-Josef Christ. “This is our home, and we have a special culture that needs to be preserved.” The first wine festivals after the COVID lockdown were just around the corner. “People here were very much looking forward to regaining a bit of normality once the restrictions were eased. Now we’re facing completely different challenges,” he reports. Yet Kriechel and many other winegrowers are highly motivated: “Together we’ll succeed. Who knows, maybe it will be even better than before.”
Bayer has organized immediate support to help those impacted by the flooding: overall, the company contributed more than EUR 1 million in monetary and product donations to support relief projects by the German Red Cross, the Wuppertal Community Foundation, the Leverkusen Civic Trust and Caritas. Nearly EUR 200,000 of this figure has come from Bayer’s employees, who took part in a donation campaign organized by the German Red Cross for flood relief.
Furthermore, the company grants an up to three-day leave of absence to employees who have been impacted by the flooding or would like to support relief activities in the affected areas.
More information: twitter.com/BayerDialog
Bayer employees helping out in the Ahr Valley
To safeguard the livelihoods of winegrowers from the Mayschoss-Altenahr cooperative association, 52 Bayer employees recovered wine bottles from the mud and cleaned them, as well as pruned vines. That enabled 2.5 hectares of vines to be pruned and some 3,500 wine bottles to be cleaned in just one day. This initiative was organized by Monheim site management. Helping hands are still urgently needed. Those who require assistance can be brought together with volunteers through the “Helper Shuttle” platform, which organizes transportation to the affected areas in the Ahr Valley.