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Grape harvest off to an early start

Hopes high for quality and quantity

05 August, 18:04
Grape harvest off to an early start (ANSA) - Rome, August 5 - Italy's grape harvest has begun early due to warmer seasonal temperatures with producers expecting a good season that should reinforce the country's position as the world's leading wine producer.

Picking has begun in the northern Franciacorta area near Brescia where the white grapes produce some of Italy's best sparkling wine, made using the traditional or champenoise method used for French champagne in which the wine is fermented inside the bottle.

Should current weather conditions hold in the next few weeks, the Coldiretti farmers' association expect the quantity of the grapes produced should allow Italy to make enough wine to remain the top producer.

Last year Italy produced 49.6 million hectolitres of wine, out of a total of 157.2 million for the European Union, compared to 46.2 million hectolitres made in France.

"If the present trend continues, Italy can for the first time expect to see a turnover from wine of eight billion euros, four of which from sales abroad," Coldiretti said.

Although the harvest came early, ''climatic conditions this year were very favorable with a warmer-than-average spring and summer temperatures which were hot in the day and cool at night,'' the organisation said.

The wine grape harvest will employ some 1.2 million people in the vineyards, cellars and distribution as well as related services, Coldiretti said.

About 60% of this year's harvest is expected to be used to make quality wines which should further boost wine exports.

Exports have already jumped 14% for the first half of the year compared to the same period in 2010. Although Italy beat France for the first time last year for the overall amount of wine produced, it had already surpassed France in the production of bulk unbottled wine, much of which was exported to France where it was blended with famous bottled wines like Beaujolais. Italy had also already overtaken France for the production of sparkling wine with 4.2 million hectolitres of prosecco and spumante compared to four million hectolitres of champagne.

The steady rise in Italian wine exports has more than offset a decline in domestic consumption which last year fell for the first time below 20 million hectolitres or 40 litres per capita, a drop of some 30% over 20 year ago.

Exports, on the other hand, rose 50% over the same period, increasing in value from 2.4 billion euros to 3.6 billion euros.

Sector sources said the jump in exports was particularly significant for wines from Italy's southern regions and was in large part thanks to investment in promotion and marketing.

Wine is a very big business in Italy and is valued at some 13.5 billion euros.

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