Wine producers in Italy are facing their worst grape harvest for more than half a century due to an unusually wet spring and summer.
Italy is normally the world’s biggest wine producer but the poor harvest, which has just started in some regions, means that the accolade is likely to go to France this year.
Italian vintners are expected to produce 900 million gallons (41m hectolitres) of wine this autumn, a 15 per cent drop compared to last year, according to Coldiretti, the country’s main agricultural organisation.
France will easily supercede that amount, with a forecast production of just over 1 billion gallons, according to the French agriculture ministry.
“With a reduction of more than 15 per cent compared to last year, the harvest of 2014 risks becoming the worst since 1950,” Coldiretti said.
“It’s certain that Italy will this year lose its number one standing in the production of wine to France.”
Italy’s worst affected regions were Puglia and Sicily in the south, where production is expected to fall by up to 30 per cent.
Some regions in central Italy will see a modest increase in the quantity of grapes harvested, while across the north of the country production will be down on last year.
There was a faint glimmer of light for glum producers – Coldiretti said that if autumn weather conditions were good, with plenty of sunshine and not too much rain, the harvest could improve a little.
This year’s harvest, known in Italy as the “vendemmia”, is starting later than usual because of the poor weather and will continue until late October or, in some parts of the country, early November.
Only about 20 per cent of grapes have so far been picked, Coldiretti said.
Much of Italy, especially the north, was hit by severe storms, flooding and unusually chilly weather, with newspapers declaring that “this was the summer that never was”.
Damp conditions are detrimental to vines because they encourage fungal rot.
The wine sector is estimated to employ around 1.25 million Italians, from the vintners and farm workers who tend the estates to the glass factories that make bottles and the trucking companies that transport the wine.
It is worth 9.5 billion euros a year, half of which consists of overseas exports.
The country boasts around 200,000 wineries, from tiny family-run enterprises to large commercial estates, and 650,000 hectares of vineyards, of which more than two-thirds produce high quality DOCG or DOC (designations safeguarding quality and provenance) wine.
The wine industry is a crucial component of the economy, particularly at a time of stagnation.
Italy’s growth rate this year will be close to zero, according to Matteo Renzi, the 39-year-old prime minister who came to power in February on promises of cutting red tape, improving competitiveness and reducing chronic levels of youth unemployment.
Source: The Telegraph