TAnja Lingen hardly dares to think about the night her two sons entered the family vineyard cellar to salvage what they could of supplies and equipment as the waters of the nearby Ahr River rose to dangerous levels.
“They removed the fermentation locks from the oak barrels and replaced them with tight-fitting plastic stoppers just in time,” she says. They even had the presence of mind to film the dramatic scene, accidentally capturing the chalk marks that nearly disappeared on the barrels, which meant it was possible to identify what was in them.
“I could only dare to see the movie for the first time a few days ago,” he admits. “It made me feel pretty dizzy.”
Minutes after her children had capped the barrels, she recalls, there was a huge bang when an electrical outlet exploded. Less than 20 minutes later, the waters of the river crashed against the basement and the house, 250 meters from its banks, reaching the first floor.
Two months after the flood, worse than anything of its kind ever recorded in Germany, Lingen and other locals are still picking up the pieces.
She has been overwhelmed by the support the family received from volunteer firefighters and other helpers who helped pump out the cellar and remove tons of sticky sludge from the vineyard, dating back to 1590, as well as a guest house, in Bad Neuenahr. . . She is also grateful for the € 23k (£ 19k) in direct government aid she has received, of which € 15k has gone directly towards the purchase of a new heating system.
The wine cellar and tasting room are similar to a sauna and still smell musty. She tasted the wine in the barrels “and I didn’t get sick with a stomach bug, so that’s a good sign,” she says, her joviality defying the magnitude of the disaster.
But now he has to focus his efforts on the next grape harvest, which will start in about a week, which is seen as a hugely significant moment for the region’s 50 winegrowers, only four of whom did not lose ownership. All have been affected by the floods and are struggling to recover.
An estimated € 50 million worth of wine has been lost, along with 10-15% of 560 hectares of vineyards, in the Ahr Valley, Germany’s largest continuous expansion of red wine production, specializing in Pinot Noir , or what is known in German as Pinot noir. Many of the destroyed vines were decades or even hundreds of years old and will take years to replenish.
Approximately 3,000 bottles of Lingens wine, which are covered in mud and not suitable for sale, are packed in metal boxes, labeled with the request “please do not wash”. They are about to be sent to donors across Europe who have paid for them above the odds to fund a “flood wine”Support scheme for tissue vine growers. So far it has raised almost 4.5 million euros.
Over the past few weeks, the challenge for winegrowers has been to ensure that their vines remain free from fungal infections, of particular concern given the high humidity caused by flooding and weeks of torrential rains. Volunteers have been sent by bus to help prune them (the vintners were concerned about cleaning their vineyards) and more will be available to help with the harvest. Help, in the form of labor and machinery donations, has also been provided by winegrowers from other wine regions in Germany and Europe.
Tanja Lingen’s main concern is her heavily clogged and damaged wine press, which is being repaired in the Mosel Valley and she is not sure it will return in time for the harvest. “We call them every day hoping it’s ready,” he says.
Meanwhile, the family has been busy washing their 600-liter stainless steel tanks, what Lingen calls a “sisyphus task,” which involves removing each of the clogged sludge valves and putting them in ultrasonic baths before steam cleaning.
Peter Kriechel, Director of the Ahrwein Trade Association whose family has been making wine since at least 1555, feels the strain on his ankles as he stands on the steep slopes of his vineyard, most of which were undamaged, and measures the maturity of his grapes by crushing some of them between his hands. fingertips and dropping the juice into the glass prism of a refractor.
It is one of the few teams that he was able to rescue from the waters, which destroyed his press, crusher and destemmers.
Kriechel gazes out at the ravaged, jagged brown valley below and emphasizes the vintners’ determination to keep going.
“Wine is our livelihood, as well as being a cultural asset,” he says. It also highlights the strong symbiotic relationship between wine and the tourism and hospitality industries. Many destroyed hotels and restaurants are unlikely to reopen. In addition, there are the hiking trails, which include well-traveled and centuries-old wine routes, and dozens of bridges and roads that make transportation possible, which can take years to rebuild.
Kriechel walks through the empty rooms of his devastated family hotel and guesthouse in the village of Marienthal, inspecting the damage. The grapes, which once beautifully framed the driveway, are covered in mold and mud.
Tears come to her eyes as she recounts how she received the news that morning from an architect and structural engineer that it would have to be demolished. “Some people wonder, ‘Is it worth it?’ They suggest that maybe we should just leave the valley, ”he says. “But when your family has been doing this for the better part of 500 years, no idea seems more absurd.”