Flooded Vineyards and Hot Bordeaux

The damage caused to Germany by the floods is still being calculated.
© AP | The damage caused to Germany by the floods is still being calculated.
Floods cause more heartache in Europe, while dodgy wine is dealt a blow across Europe in this week's news roundup.
By Oliver Styles | Posted Sunday, 25-Jul-2021

Well, it has been an interesting week, no doubt about that.

Winery owners getting arrested, Champagne changing the rules around plantings and even Joe Biden turning his beady eye towards the big wine concerns – there has been plenty to mull over for wine news junkies.

Related stories:
Mildew Threatens French Grape Harvest
Barbera Came to Stay
Italian Police Smash Fake Wine Ring

However, in all the excitement, there are a few things you mighht have missed, so we've rounded up some of the other stories from the week in wine.

Floods cause €50 million damage to German wine

As the clearup following last week's devastating and fatal floods in the German wine region of the Ahr gets under way, so winemakers in the region begin to pick up the pieces.

Initial reports have put the cost of wine losses alone at €48-50 million ($56-59m), with regional public broadcaster SWR saying most of the 65 wineries in the area are "in dire straits". Indeed, while barrels and bottles of wine have either been ruined or carried off by the floodwaters – as evidenced by numerous photographs this week, the devastation is even more widespread.

Wine presses and destemmers have been destroyed, vineyard tractors swept away, and low-lying vineyards in some sectors have been ruined by the floods. Futhermore, basic infrastructure has been hugely affected.

"It is unclear when there will be running water and electricity again," said SWR.

"It's a war here," one eyewitness told weekly business magazine Wirtschaftswoche from the well-regarded Meyer-Näkel winery in flood-ravaged Dernau. Meyer-N?kel's US importer also told Wine Enthusiast that sisters Meike and D?rte N?kel, who run the winery, were rescued from a tree after being swept away while trying to save their winery in the town.

Wineries in the Mosel to the south have already begun offering support and, crucially, cellar facilities in which Ahr winegrowers and winemakers can produce wines in the forthcoming vintage. The death toll of the floods currently sits between 120 and 160, depending on reports, and could still rise.

Numerous donation pages have already been established:

  • Ahr - A Wineregion needs Help eV
    KSK AHRWEILER
    DE94 5775 1310 0000 3395 07
  • The VDP.Adler hilft eV
    Rheingauer Volksbank
    Subject: Solidarity Ahr Weinbau
    IBAN: DE 21 5109 1500 0000 2045 28
  • Aktion Deutschland hilft eV
    Bank for Social Economy
    Keyword ?Flood damage July 2021?
    IBAN DE62 3702 0500 0000 1020 30
  • A telephone line for donations has also been established: 0900 55 10 20 30.

Bordeaux stolen from truck in Normandy

Some news stories beg more questions than the facts they provide. A recent report concerning an early morning theft from a parked truck in France's northern Normandy region was one such example.

Aware that his lorry, parked just south of Pont-Audemer (50km/30 miles west of Rouen), had been broken into in the early hours of Tuesday morning, a truck driver called in the police. Cue the arrival of the gendarmes and a PSIG (the Gendarmerie's Surveillance and Intervention Platoon) squad – a kind of noctural, public-order SWAT team – on the scene.

On arrival, the forces of law and order spot a vehicle making a getaway before confirming the theft of nearly 300 bottles of "quality wine – quite expensive, such as Saint-Julien or Saint-Estèphe," according to gendarme captain André Guidoux.

First, the size of the vehicle isn't noted – something of a consideration given that, presumably, it contains roughly 25 cases of wine – but we can probably assume its not a Renault Twingo. Second, if Guidoux knows his Saint-Julien from his Saint-Estèphe, are we to assume the Gendarmerie Nationale has a robust, multi-faceted approach to training? Or is this simply the result of an envious salary structure?

Third, Twingo or van, how long had the thieves been there? The only other demographic I know of that has experience of packing a car in the early hours of the morning is parents, and the equivalent of jamming 25 cases in a car is not a five-minute job, even for the initiated.

The answer to this question possibly lies in the next development. As reported by news outlet Paris Normandie: "After a few minutes, an individual was discovered in a ditch." His or her state is, crucially, not recorded.

The gendarmes eventually caught up with the getaway vehicle spotted earlier (which contained five people). The culprits were known to the police. No news, however, on whether or not the wines were recovered.

Piedmont region launches new promo campaign

Monday saw the unveiling of a new promotional campaign for the Barbera d'Asti region. Launched by the Barbera d'Asti and Monferrato winegrowers group, the push is titled "My name is Barbera and I have a story to tell".

Cue a poster image of a woman in a red dress, walking barefoot through a hillside vineyard, holding a wine glass only marginally smaller than her head, with the words "welcome to my place". 

"We have chosen a visual language that combines nature, product and vision – elements that have always identified Monferrato and its wines," Filippo Mobrici was quoted in newswire Ansa. 

You might need a fair bit of time on your hands to listen to that story. The Barbera d'Asti and Monferrato wine region accounts for a third of Piedmont's DOCG and DOC area, taking in 13 wine regions (including the likes of Nizza, Ruche di Castagnole Monferrato, Dolcetto d'Asti, Albugnano and Loazzolo) and over 11,000 hectares (27,000 acres) of vines to wander through, barefoot.

Chefs' meeting in Lafite

It iss Château Lafite-Rothschild's turn to host the 34th annual, chefs-of-heads-of-state club meet this year. This week, we learned the hastiness of cooks had descended on the Médoc First Growth in Pauillac for a get-together the week before.

The 20-odd whitecoats included the likes of Gregor Zimmermann (who whips up the Austrian president's breakfast) ; Santi Rosato (ultimately responsible for making sure no pineapple is seen on the Italian president's pizza), Franck Panier (who bubbles the stockpot for the Grand Duke of Luxemburg); Rachid Agouray (who keeps Mohammed VI of Marrocco's ovens warm) and Mark Flanagan (who does cheese-on-toast for Queen Elizabeth II).

Not much by way of gossip about the gastronomic tastes of our figureheads, unfortunately, although we did learn there is an informal chef's network.

"We call each other to find out the eating habits of presidents – it's our blue telephone," French chef Jér?me Rigaud (who has cooked for Vladimir Putin and Dimitry Medvedev) told French regional newspaper Sud-Ouest. The publication felt the need to also make clear that "blue telephone" was a reference to the so-called "red telephone" one head of state uses to call another.

Gilles Bragard, the chefs' clothing manufacturer who founded the cabal of kings' cooks 40 years ago, reminded those present that, "while politics divides people, a good spread always brings them together". This time, Lafite's Saskia de Rothschild brought them together over some Chateau Lafite 1996, the 1985 in double magnum, and the 1949.

Italian police bust fake Champagne gang

A reported 10,000 bottles of Prosecco relabeled to resemble Champagne were seized by Italian police on Tuesday, following search orders issued by the Prosecutor's Office in northern Naples. As part of operation “Bad Drink” (yes, that's it's actual name), police and members of Italy’s anti-fraud unit, the ICQRF, descended on warehouses in the region throughout the early part of the week.

According to Italian regional daily La Tribuna di Treviso, 10,000 bottles of fake Champagne were seized. It’s also hard to find a more chilling line than that in counterpart news source Treviso Today’s report, which said that police also found "large quantities of disinfectant and denatured alcohol of foreign origin that were used for the production of alcoholic beverages".

Police also totted up more than 9000 bottles of liqueur, 2800 liters of "alcohol", and packaging. A further 900 bottles of sunflower oil had been treated with dye and were earmarked for sale as extra virgin olive oil.

A corresponding volume of printed false labels and 300,000 forged official state seals were also seized.

Champagne lifts yields for 2021 harvest

The Champagne wine trade body (the CIVC) announced this week it would lift maximum yields for the 2021 harvest in the region, following a low-yield year in 2020. The decision sees a maximum of 10 tons per hectare allowed for this year's harvest, up from the eight tons per hectare stipulated in 2020.

Yields in Champagne are officially set at 10.4 tons, although this can be amended from vintage to vintage. Indeed, the eight-ton per hectare limit in 2020 was mainly set due to falling market demand as a result of the Covid pandemic.

"This calculated and optimistic decision clearly illustrates the confidence of all [industry] players in the sustainability and sound nature of the sector," said Maxime Toubart, head of the CIVC.

According to French wine publication La Revue du Vin de France, the rise in yield corresponds to around 300 million bottles.

Suicides in French vineyards

We missed this story last week, but gastronomic French website lefooding.com ran a piece on the recent spate of suicides in France (Pascal Clairet, Olivier Lemasson, and Dominique Belluard all died between May and June). While these tragedies are clearly not isolated to a particular region (Laurent Vaillé was another high-profile winemaker who took his own life in May), the piece falls within the wider context of the turbulent and sometimes extremely challenging time many are facing across the industry – and around the world – at the moment.

There are clearly no straightforward explanations. "We can try to explain, make a link between the act and psychological discomfort, stress, burnout – but it is impossible to provide definite answers," sociologist Clément Prévitali told lefooding.com writer Céline Maguet.

With all that in mind, please look out for one another.

If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health, you are not alone. Please reach out to a mental health professional. Here is a link to international helpline site findahelpline.com

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