Italian winemakers expect less quantity, more quality after extreme weather

A prolonged drought which has devastated crops across southern Europe and a frosty start to the year have sent farmers group Confagricoltura's expectations of wine grape production down 15-20% in Italy. [Christian Guthier/Flickr]

Italy’s wine producers are already starting to pick grapes under a scorching sun, after a very cold spring and then extreme heat brought forward a harvest expected to be small but perfectly delicious.

A prolonged drought which has devastated crops across southern Europe and a frosty start to the year have sent farmers group Confagricoltura’s expectations of wine grape production down 15-20% in Italy.

But the group expects harvests of prosecco, primitivo and pinot grigio to be of great quality, partly thanks to the fact that heat and dryness protect vines from disease and contribute to a greater concentration of nutrients in the fruit.

Climate change threatens European wine production

The EU is the world’s biggest wine producer, but a recent publication has revealed the extent to which the sector is under threat from climate change. EURACTIV France reports

“It is entirely paradoxical,” vineyard owner and Confagricoltura official Guido Folonari told Reuters. “Everything bad that could have happened, happened and yet we are heading for good if not excellent quality.”

Italy is the world’s biggest wine producer, and annual turnover in the industry is about €10bn, according to agricultural group Coldiretti.

Wine is also the biggest earner among the country’s agricultural and food exports, Coldiretti says.

Lower production will probably mean higher prices for grapes, but buyers will have to wait until bottled wine hits the shelves in the coming years to see whether those prices also rise, Folonari said.

Frost in April prompted vineyard owners in some regions to light bonfires among the vines. French grape growers, who are facing a record low output this year, used similar tactics.

“Now we are in the opposite situation, if there were just a light breeze to move the air it would be better,” Folonari said.

In the northern hills of Franciacorta, grapes were hit so hard by the cold snap that production of the area’s prized sparkling wine is likely to drop 30%, producer Riccardo Ricci Curbastro said.

French winemakers launch campaign against 'unfair' Spanish competition

Winemakers in the Montpellier region in southern France have launched a media campaign to alert consumers to “unfair competition” from their Spanish counterparts, passing off their wine as French. EURACTIV Spain reports.

However, it is still too early to predict how good this year’s Franciacorta will be, Ricci Curbastro said, because it is fermented in the bottle and the process takes at least 25 months from the moment of picking.

“We are not worried, the weather is favourable and the grapes are healthy,” Ricci Curbastro said. “We will only know if it’s good and how good after Christmas, when the wines have matured a bit and we can try a glass.”