Wine production: France overtakes Italy as no. 1 for first time in nine years

October 4, 2023

France has overtaken Italy as the world’s leading wine producer as extreme weather and fungal disease have ravaged many Italian regions

Wine output from Italy dropped to 44m hectares in 2023, or by 12%, from 50m hectares, compared with 2022. This year will see Italy’s smallest wine harvest in the past six years, and France back at the top spot in production for the first time in nine years

The fungus Peronospora [also known as grape downy mildew] has largely been responsible for the poor harvest, which has been in turn driven by the heavy rain across certain regions of Italy, particularly in southern regions such as Sicily and Basilicata, where production is set to drop by 30%, as well as in central Italian regions, where production is forecast to fall by around 20%.

According to forecasts from the Assoenologi Observatory, Ismea and the Italian Wine Union (Uiv), the poor harvest has “once again been characterised by the now chronic effects of climate change, which, with the related uncertainties and often extreme weather patterns (+70% rainy days in the first 8 months of last year), have determined important quantitative differences throughout the country.”

The President of Assoenologi, Riccardo Cotarella, commented: “We are facing a very complex harvest season, characterised above all by the effects of climate change, which at the end of spring and the beginning of summer were the cause of pathogenic diseases such as Peronospora [also known as grape downy mildew], floods, hailstorms and drought.

“The picture that emerges from the harvest forecasts indicates a decline in grape production … especially where the vine has been repeatedly attacked by disease. On the front of quality, 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 strange years that it is necessary to put
all the technical and scientific knowledge in place to mitigate the damage of an increasingly crazy climate”.

“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 more characterised than their competitors,” added the Extraordinary Commissioner of Ismea, Livio Proietti.

The President of the Italian Wine Union, Lamberto Frescobaldi, went on to say that it was time to rethink the way the wine industry operates, to make for a more sustainable future. “Today more than ever, medium and long-term political choices are required in favour of quality and a structural reform of the sector. Among the priorities, it is necessary to finally close the decree on sustainability and modernise the Italian vineyard, which is on average old, difficult to mechanise and expensive to manage.

“It is also necessary to review the criteria for the “rapid” authorisation of new vineyards based on the performance of the denominations, in addition to reducing the yields of generic wines and reviewing the PDO and PGI system, including their market management.”

France’s wine production and issues of over production

France’s wine production is just above Italy’s at 45 million hectares, taking the country to the top spot, however it is not the celebrated victory that one might assume as France struggles with overproduction.

In fact, according to reports in August, the EU has set aside a fund that the French government has in turn topped up to destroy surplus wine, purchase excess stock and support producers.

Overproduction and the cost of living crisis are two of the drivers, but also a fall in demand, as increasing numbers of consumers are choosing craft beers, and other drinks over wine.

These problems have led to major financial difficulties for up to one in three winemakers in the Bordeaux region, according to the local farmers’ association.

An initial EU fund of €160m for wine destruction has been topped up to €200m by the French government, the agriculture minister, Marc Fesneau, told reporters. According to reports, the alcohol bought by the government will be sold for use in items such as hand sanitiser, cleaning products and perfume.

In a bid to cut back on the overproduction, money will also be available for winegrowers to change to other products, such as olives. The money was “aimed at stopping prices collapsing and so that winemakers can find sources of revenue again,” French agriculture minister Marc Fesneau told reporters in August.

He emphasised, however, that the sector also needed to “look to the future, think about consumer changes, and adapt.”

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