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Austrian harvest survives worst flooding for decades

Grapes ripe for picking have survived torrential rain and flooding in Austria's vineyards in the east of the country. But some top producers have been left homeless, and ancient terrace walls are in ruins.

The prestigious regions of Wachau, Kemptal and Kremstal have been hardest hit. They border the Danube and its tributaries in the north-west of the wine belt.

Rivers rose over 11 metres in places, submerging property, destroying machinery and outbuildings, and flooding riverside cellars. Rain that accompanied the flooding washed away terrace walling dating back a hundred or more years.

At Weingut Prager, in Weissenkirchen in Wachau, the water filled the house and cellars and destroyed machinery. ‘The water was about 11 metres – higher than ever before,’ Di Bodenstein said. ‘The vineyards are OK, but we have lost a great deal of terracing which will take much work to put right. We need people to buy Austrian wines.’

Downstream at Durstein, Fritz Miesbauer of top co-operative Freie Weingärtner Wachau saw his home submerged. ‘The house is just three metres from the river’s edge and was destroyed,’ he said. ‘But the winery is perfect. The vines are intact too, though the terracing could take years to rebuild.’

Another Wachau star, FX Pichler, is reported to have suffered extensive damage to property and terracing.

Near the banks of the Kamp in Kamptal, Willi Bründlmayer of Weingut Bründlmayer is feeling luckier. Kamptal was the first area to suffer,’ he said. ‘But our vineyards on the hills and twelfth century cellars escaped inundation. They are just high enough.’ The River Kamp reached its highest level since records began in 1896.

A massive reservoir on the river Kamp overflowed into the surrounding area. The house and cellar at Weingut Hirsch is submerged, and Mantlerhof has had a terrible time, Bründlmayer said.

Away from the flooded plains, though, producers are talking of a great harvest, and grapes baked by several weeks of sunshine relishing the rain.

Alois Kracher in Neusiedlersee, near the Hungarian border, is expecting a ‘perfect vintage’ now that the wind is drying the grapes. ‘The only danger is more rain, which could burst the fruit,’ he said. ‘The grapes are really ripe and we will start picking earlier than normal, on 15 September.’

Bründlmayer agrees. ‘It sounds cynical,’ he said, ‘but where the vines are on dry, rocky ground like ours the rain has been welcome. Today the vineyards look beautiful.’

According to the Austrian Wine Marketing Board, just 0.2% of Austria’s 50,000 hectares of vineyards has been lost or contaminated by floodwaters. ‘The effects on the overall quality and quantity of the 2002 vintage are not expected to be significant,’ a spokesman said.

The Austrian Winegrowers’ Association is meeting tomorrow morning to start assessing exact damage.

Written by Liz Hughes20 August 2002

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