Bad year for Italian grapes makes France the world's top wine producer

SEP 17, 2023 LISTEN

France is set to retake its title as the world's biggest wine-making country after mildew ravaged Italian vines. French vineyards also suffered from the fungus, but good weather in key wine regions including Champagne has helped keep overall production steady.

As the autumn harvest begins, winemakers in Italy are braced for a sharp drop in output after unusual heat and heavy downpours disrupted the early growing season and caused downy mildew to thrive.

Italy's production is forecast to fall to below 44 million hectolitres this year, according to wine lobbies and public agricultural institute Ismea – 12 percent less than last year, when it was 50 million hectolitres.

Meanwhile the French ministry of agriculture expects France's 2023 output to total almost 45 hectolitres. That's down 2 percent on 2022, but slightly above the five-year average.

It will be the first time in nine years that France has produced more wine than Italy, which last year made around 19 percent of the world's wine. France, in contrast, produced just under 18 percent, according to data from the International Organization of Vine and Wine.

Rampant fungus

Both countries suffered from the plasmopara viticola fungus, which causes a disease called grapevine downy mildew. 

Thriving in warm, humid conditions, the fungus leaves yellow patches on vine leaves and causes young grapes to wither.

High temperatures combined with heavy rainfall in May and June created the ideal conditions for the fungus, which is estimated to have wiped out as much as 45 percent of the grape harvest in parts of central-eastern Italy.

In France, the major wine-growing region of Bordeaux was the worst hit. According to the agriculture ministry, the region's output will fall 9 percent from last year and 17 percent below the average of the past five harvests.

The south-west was also badly affected, while the southern region of Languedoc-Roussillon suffered from drought.

However, 2023 is forecast to be a bumper year for champagne after better weather in the north-eastern region where the sparkling wine is made. Production could be as much as 24 percent above average, according to ministry figures. 

The regions of Burgundy, the Loire Valley and the Jura are also expected to reap an above-average harvest.

(with Reuters)