Germany’s ‘Worst Vintage’ Becomes a Wine to Help Flood Victims
(Bloomberg Businessweek) -- Peter Kriechel awoke on the morning of July 15 to find a dozen smashed cars piled up in his garden and the streets of the once picturesque village of Ahrweiler awash in muddy debris. At his family’s nearby winery, which has produced riesling and pinot noir varietals for almost 500 years, hulking wooden barrels were floating in the thousands of gallons of oily sludge that filled the basement.
After days of torrential rain, the Ahr and nearby rivers had turned into thundering floods that ripped through small towns in western Germany, leaving more than 100 dead and destroying houses, bridges, and vineyards. The government estimates the damage will top €5 billion ($6 billion).
Kriechel says he likely suffered €4 million in losses—from mangled equipment to broken bottles of wine valued at €50,000. And mixed in with the smashed bottles were countless others whose labels were caked in mud, rendering them virtually unsellable.
“We’re starting from scratch,” Kriechel says, raising his voice to be heard above the thrumming of the pumps still clearing the goop from his cellar. “I still don’t think I’ve fully realized what happened to us that night.”
As the people of Ahrweiler set about digging themselves out of the morass, Kriechel got a call from Daniel Koller, a friend who reported that the vintner wasn’t alone: Local wineries and restaurants had thousands of mud-caked bottles of wine piling up, their labels irretrievably soiled but their valuable contents intact. Cleaning the bottles and replacing the labels would erase the tale they told, the two mused, so why not instead sell them as artifacts to help raise money?
Within days, flutwein—flood wine—was born. With images of death and destruction still fresh in the public’s mind, Koller knew he had to move swiftly to get the operation off the ground. He reserved the rights for the brand Flutwein, then locked himself in his bedroom and set up a website and crowdfunding platform.
A typical bottle of flood wine costs about €30—vs. the €10 to €14 most wineries in the area usually charge—and the initiative has raised more than €4.5 million, making it the biggest crowdfunding effort Germany has ever seen. The bottles, each adorned with a label stating “Our Worst Vintage” look unseemly, but the 50 participating vintners guarantee that the content is unharmed. And they all promise an element of surprise, because buyers can’t choose the variety or vineyard.
It’s a bittersweet turn of events for an industry that for most of the past year couldn’t keep up with demand. With people stuck at home and restaurants and bars closed, stocking the wine cellar and drinking on the couch became a pandemic pastime the world over.
Proceeds go to a charity charged with rebuilding the region’s wine and tourism industry. Although the money raised by flood wine is just a drop in the bucket for the participating vintners, the initiative has given the region a psychological boost—and helped put it on the map.
“The Ahr region has become famous for the deadly flooding,” Koller says. “We want to make it even more famous for its wine.”
©2021 Bloomberg L.P.