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Italy drops below France for wine production as climate change blamed

French wine production overtakes Italy for the first time in nine years, following a challenging harvest for their southern neighbours, as climate change is blamed for the decline.

According to a statement from the food and agriculture body, the Istituto di Servizi per il Mercato Agricolo Alimentary (ISMEA), Italian wine production is dropping to “just below” 44 million hectolitres, which is down 12% compared to 50 million last year.

At present, French harvests are predicted to be 44 million to 47 million hectolitres, which would put it above Italy, although it has also struggled with extreme weather conditions.

The harvest forecasts of the Assoenologi Observatory, ISMEA and the Italian Wine Union, stated it could be the lightest harvest of the last six years, characterised by the “now chronic effects of climate change” which created extreme weather patterns, including more than 70% rainy days in the first 8 months of last year,  and created a number of differences throughout the country.

In the north, levels are up slightly though, by 0.8%, while the central, southern and Italian islands could see hefty declines of 20 to 30%.

Fungal disease Peronospora had a significant impact, as it is caused by frequent rains, which left many vineyards with “no chance”, especially in the central and southern regions.

But the forecasts also noted that the disease did not directly influence the quality of healthy grapes, and the first bunches harvested intended for sparkling wine were “presenting good levels of acidity and interesting aromatic frameworks, which give positive oenological prospects”.

It said that the weather of September and October would be “decisive” when the bulk of the harvest occurs. Overall volume contraction could “lead to the production record transferring to France” – although it caveated that the next few weeks would be vital for the later varieties.

President of Assoenologi, Riccardo Cotarella, said: “The harvest we are facing is very complex, characterised above all by the effects of climate changes which at the end of spring and beginning of summer were the cause of pathogenic diseases such as Peronospora, floods , hailstorms and drought.

“The image that emerges from the harvest forecasts indicates a rather significant drop in grape production, especially where the vine has been repeatedly attacked by disease. On the quality front, the matter is more complex. From the 2023 harvest, we will certainly obtain good quality wines, with peaks of excellence. Much will depend on the work, starting with that of the oenologists, carried out in the vineyard and in the cellar. It is precisely in these unusual vintages that it is necessary to put all the the technical and scientific knowledge to mitigate the damage of an increasingly unpredictable climate”.

But Cotarella said that the level of production was not a concern, given the high levels of stocks, and the slowdown in domestic and foreign demand – and called for Italy to increase competitiveness.

He continued: “We must work to reduce the gap in terms of value between us and France and to strengthen the competitive positioning of quality wines, ensuring that even ordinary wines are increasingly characterised compared to competitors”.

Italian Wine Union president Lamberto Frescobaldi added that medium and long-term political choices were required, alongside structural reform of the sector.

He said: “it is necessary to finally close the issue of sustainability and modernise the Italian vineyard, which on average is old, difficult to mechanise and expensive to manage. We also need to review the criteria for the “rapid” authorisation of new vineyards based on the performance of the denominations, as well as reducing the yields of generic wines and reviewing the PDO and PGI system, including their market management.

“These are the tools to allow Italian wine to make the leap in quality necessary to face both the economic situation of the markets and structural changes.”

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Will heatwaves doom Italian viticulture?

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