Italy surpassed longtime rival France to clinch the title as the world’s number one producer of wine in 2008. Excellent growing conditions and a bumper crop drove production figures up 8 percent over 2007 to 4.7 billion liters of wine, next to 4.44 billion liters in France, where production dropped 5 percent.
“Southern Italian regions like Sicily and Puglia with lots of land planted to vines saw a strong increase in production and helped to increase the national average,” said Domenico Bosco, who is responsible for wine with Coldiretti, Italy’s powerful farmers’ lobby. Those regions had suffered from devastating outbreaks of downy mildew in past years but dryer climatic conditions in 2008 cleared much of the problem.
The last time Italy held the top spot as the world’s number one producer of wine was in 1998. Since then, the number of acres planted to vines in Italy has decreased.
The news comes at an interesting time for Italian and French grape growers. The European Union’s Agriculture Commission has enacted a plan to reduce the number of vineyard acres and curb Europe’s chronic oversupply of wine. Italian producers have until June of next year to rip out select vineyards under the plan.
“We have no way of knowing how this will effect Italy’s production figures, but if fewer vineyards are ripped out that means Italian producers will have found favorable conditions in which to sell their wine,” said Mr. Bosco. “We hope Italy holds its leading rank in the years to come because this will help consolidate our position in international markets.”
Italy is the number one importer of wines to the United States. The first nine months of 2008 saw $859.45 million in Italian wine imported to the US, compared to $708.12 million for France and $436.61 million for Australia according to Lucio Caputo, President of the Italian Wine & Food Institute in New York.