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Italy loses world's biggest wine producer title as extreme weather and disease hit output

The slump is due to the combined effect of poor weather and damage from a fungus called plasmopara viticola.
The slump is due to the combined effect of poor weather and damage from a fungus called plasmopara viticola. Copyright Andrea Cairone
Copyright Andrea Cairone
By Rebecca Ann Hughes
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Extreme weather conditions and fungal diseases have ravaged vineyards causing output to drop below 44 million hectolitres in 2023.

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Italy has lost its cherished crown as the world's biggest wine producer.

This year has been challenging for winemakers in Italy causing production to fall by 12 per cent compared to 2022.

Extreme weather conditions and fungal diseases have ravaged vineyards causing output to drop below 44 million hectolitres in 2023. Winemakers are expecting the smallest harvest in six years.

The situation is slightly better in northern Italian regions including Piedmont, which have recorded a small 0.8 per cent increase in production, according to Italian wine lobbies UIV and Assoenologi, a wine experts association.

Even so, the overall drop means France will reclaim the top stop for the first time in nine years.

Italy’s 2023 wine slump

Production is set to drop by 20 per cent in central Italian regions and around 30 per cent in southern regions like Sicily and Basilicata, according to harvest forecast data.

The slump is due to the combined effect of poor weather and damage from a fungus called plasmopara viticola.

The fungus causes one of the most devastating diseases of grapevines and is also known as grape downy mildew.

Andrea Cairone
Winemakers are expecting the smallest harvest in six years.Andrea Cairone

In warm, humid conditions, white fungal growth spreads over leaves and fruit often causing portions of the plant to die.

This year, it has particularly affected central and southern regions of Italy due to increased rainfall.

"The harvest we are facing is very complex, characterized above all by the effects of climate change which at the end of spring and beginning of summer caused pathogenic diseases such as downy mildew, floods, hailstorms, and drought," said Riccardo Cotarella, head of Assoenologi, in a statement.

The drop in production will not affect the quality of the wine, Cotarella added. "From the 2023 harvest we will certainly obtain good quality wines, with peaks of excellence," he said.

France struggles with over-production

France has taken over the top spot as the world's largest wine producer, but it hasn't necessarily been a victory for vintners. 

Due to a trifecta of problems - the cost of living crisis, changes in consumption habits and the hangover from COVID - the country has seen a fall in the demand for wine. 

The French government recently announced €200 million earmarked for the disposal of surplus wine production in a bid to bolster winemakers struggling financially.

The money was “aimed at stopping prices collapsing and so that winemakers can find sources of revenue again,” 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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