A searing heatwave nicknamed Lucifer has plagued Italy’s grape farmers, causing wine production to fall by up to 15%, according to the country’s farmers association.
Simone Frusca, spokesman for Italy’s farmers association Coldiretti, said high temperatures hovering near or above 40 degrees celcius across Italy for weeks following months of drought had hit wine production.
“The high temperatures have created a drastic decline in production of about 10-15%,” he said.
Italy’s annual wine harvest is the biggest in the world and Italy’s wine industry employs around 1.5m people. Last year, the country produced about 1.5m gallons of wine and wine sales reached $12bn, according to government figures.
Any disruption in Italian wine supply chain could affect British drinks retailers. Wine exports from Italy are popular with UK consumers, especially prosecco, which has grown by 72% in the past five years, according to the UK’s Wine and Spirit Trade Association.
The hot weather and drought has meant that some sparkling wine producers in northern Italy have started harvesting grapes two weeks earlier than normal—the earliest start to the grape harvest in a decade.
Producers of Italian sparkling wine Franciacorta, in Lombardy, east of Milan, said although they do not normally start their harvest until after ‘Ferragosto’, a national bank holiday on 15 August, they had officially begun their 2017 wine harvest on 3 August.
Mauro Piliu, export director of Castello di Gussago, told CBS the erratic weather forced them to harvest their Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes early.
Due to the weather conditions, the 2017 production of Castello di Gussago would be 10% lower than last year, Piliu estimated.
Franciacorta is expected to see overall yields down by 30%, according to the region’s wine council.
Yet, Italy’s agriculture industry still predicts the country will retain the title of the world’s biggest wine producer because chief rivals France and Spain had also experienced wild weather.
In Spain, Irene Mestre Torras, winemaker for Colet Winery just outside Barcelona, said they had started picking grapes for sparkling wines 10 days earlier and that production would be around 15% lower this year compared to 2016.
In France, the agriculture ministry said last month that the vineyard-growing season was two weeks ahead of schedule in several areas.
Italy’s Coldiretti said that, despite lower production, producers were optimistic that this year’s harvest could still yield high quality wines.
“The excessive heat has prevented fungus and disease from spreading on the vines and high temperatures can sometimes lead to a more concentrated sugar level in the grapes,” he said.
“With the technology they have now for cooling down grapes when they make wine, it’s a lot easier to manipulate and not suffer a bad harvest.”