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When the Rhine-Hesse VDP vintner Dirk Würtz (St. Antony) posted a short appeal for wine donations to his colleagues in the Facebook group "Hauptsache Wein", he had no idea that this would develop into one of the largest relief campaigns in the wine industry in Europe. A few days later he knew. In an interview with Uwe Kauss, he reports on tens of thousands of bottles, hundreds of volunteers and a donation from South Africa.

How did you find out about the flood disaster on the Ahr?

Würtz: We produced podcasts for our series "Dieters Weinbar". Meike Näkel from the Ahr winery Meyer-Näkel was supposed to be a guest. We hadn't heard from her for two days, but I didn't think anything of it. We had only heard: there's a flood. I live and work on the Rhine, I know what that is. No drama. But we had no contact with her until the recording date. So my podcast partner Andreas Kunze wrote to her again, and suddenly the answer came: "There's flooding here. We have nothing left but our lives." We couldn't place it at first. Shortly afterwards, more and more bad news came from the Ahr. Then we realised that the situation must be dramatic. On Saturday morning, an acquaintance asked me if I had heard anything about fellow Ahr winemaker Benedikt Baltes. There were rumours that he had been reported missing. Later I found out that he was sitting on the roof of his house waiting for help.

When did you decide to start the appeal for donations?

Würtz: When it became clear that this was not just a flood, but a disaster. I already have a bit of experience with charity campaigns, most recently with "Kochen für Helden" for the Corona Lockdown. So I posted an appeal to my fellow winemakers in our Facebook group "Hauptsache Wein": Send me a few bottles of wine, preferably about 60 each, and we'll offer them in our online shop for support, distribute them here at the winery in boxes of 6 and send them to interested parties for a donation.

No one had any idea that the campaign would take on such dimensions.

How did the response develop?

Würtz: After the first feedback from the winegrowers, it was already clear on Saturday afternoon that something would come together. I thought: If maybe 1,500 packages for 65 euros gross came together, that would be amazing! You have to get 9,000 bottles together first. On Monday at 10 a.m., I activated the package in the online shop. 48 hours later we had sold 10,000 packages! I have never experienced that before. We didn't even have enough wine to deliver the orders! So I called a few colleagues: I need some more wine. If there hadn't been enough, I would have packed 10,000 bottles of my own, which we had filled for a customer. But soon it was clear: we would actually get the 60,000 bottles together. From Thursday to Sunday, we did nothing but pack from morning to night. At the same time, more and more wine arrived, and suddenly we had 80,000 bottles! Nobody had any idea that the action would develop such a dimension.

SolidAHRität wine packages in the warehouse in Bodenheim (Rheinhessen), which an entrepreneur made available to the campaign free of charge.

Dirk Würtz

Why didn't you just start an appeal for donations?

Würtz: One is always wiser afterwards (laughs). I think many more people are willing to donate an amount of 65 euros for a surprise package with six good wines than with just an appeal. It's the combination that does it! Many ordered two packages, others even ten or sometimes 40.

What was the largest amount?

Würtz: Someone ordered 200 packages. Totally crazy.

How did the vintners' willingness to donate develop?

Würtz: We received emails with wine donations from Austria, South Tyrol, Italy, France, Luxembourg, even Greece - and South Africa. A winery friend of mine emailed from there: I'm sending a pallet today. Although they themselves are struggling with completely different problems. An estimated 30,000 bottles have come from Austria alone.

How many bottles do you currently expect?

Würtz: In the meantime, well over 200,000 bottles have come in. That's why we can't accept any more at the moment. The gross amount already exceeds one million euros. But we have to pay the value-added tax, and shipping also costs a six-figure sum. But still: In the end, we will be able to help people with more than one million euros.

How many volunteers helped?

Würtz: We had 200 helpers here from Thursday to Sunday to pack. We could never have done it without them. In the next few days, another 200 volunteers will come.

The crucial thing is to help people help themselves

How will the donations be used?

Würtz: The money will go completely to the VDP association "Der VDP.Adler hilft". I am now also a member of this association. It is intended to help all affected winegrowers, not just VDP businesses. That was a prerequisite for me, otherwise I would not have participated. The crucial thing for us is to help people to help themselves: The 2019 vintage floated away with the flood, the barrels of 2020 are lying somewhere in the landscape. Therefore, the 2021 vintage must not be lost under any circumstances! That's why I also sent my people with caterpillars to help in the Ahr vineyards. When I ask them: What do you need for the autumn, the answer is very difficult for them to give. They may have lost everything and cannot yet think clearly again. That's why we want to help in a very targeted way. I could imagine that we would have two large grape reception stations set up, complete with de-stemmers and everything that is needed. But there will be no quick fixes.

Would the campaign have worked without "Hauptsache Wein"?

Würtz: Certainly not. We have over 20,000 members, that's the biggest wine community in Europe, maybe even in the world! That's why I started the appeal for donations there. 80 percent of those who have to do with wine professionally in Germany are members.

Project organiser Dirk Würtz (m.) with CDU Member of Parliament Jan Metzler from Worms (l.) and Christian Baldauf, CDU parliamentary group leader in the Rhineland-Palatinate state parliament (r.)

Dirk Würtz

In the meantime, you have moved from the winery to a warehouse. How did that come about?

Würtz: That is thanks to the German Wine Institute (DWI) - like so much help it has made possible. Already when they were looking for sponsors for shipping costs and packaging, they asked their contacts. The DWI marketing manager Steffen Schindler was standing here in the courtyard, looking at the wine pallets and asked me: What will you do if it rains? It won't, I answered. And sure enough, shortly afterwards it rained. Steffen put me in touch with the owner of a hall in neighbouring Bodenheim. When I visited it, I thought: This is a winner of the lottery! The DWI staff also come to pack the wines, and the Wine Institute has even organised catering for the teams of helpers in the meantime. Before, we grilled and cooked for everyone ourselves.

What happens when the donation million has been collected? Will there be a celebration?

Würtz: Nothing there. Full throttle, just keep going. There is no reason to celebrate. Anything can happen, but the willingness to help must not diminish. We have to keep the project going at a high level. I will continue to call for donations throughout the year.

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