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France set to be world's top wine producer

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France set to be world's top wine producer
With a poor grape harvest in Italy, France is poised to become the words biggest winemaker. Photo: AFP
09:43 CEST+02:00
A lousy grape harvest in Italy has meant the Italians will cede their spot as the largest producer of wine in the world to France, which saw a healthy crop for the first time in several years.

Italy's 2014 wine harvest will be the smallest since 1950 and is set to cost the country its crown as the world's biggest producer by volume to France, the country's leading farmers organisation said Tuesday.

Italy's total production is forecast at 41 million hectolitres, according to the organisation, Coldiretti -- a near 15 percent fall on last year which it blamed on adverse weather conditions and the consequent prevalence of a
number of plant diseases which affect vine yields.

In contrast, France's output is forecast by its ministry of agriculture at around 45 million hectolitres this year -- although definitive figures for both countries will not be available until the respective harvests are completed at the end of October or in early November.

In Italy, falls in output of up to 30 percent are expected in Sicily and Puglia, the regions hardest hit by what has been an unusually wet and relatively cold summer in many parts of Italy.

Average rainfall across the country in July was 73 percent higher than the average, a trend that both significantly reduced tourist spending and diluted the wine-producing potential of grapes.

Wet weather at the hottest time of year is particularly bad for grape producers because it encourages various forms of fungal rot.

Italy's wine sector is a significant player in the country's struggling economy. Its 200,000 producers employ 1.25 million people and have a combined turnover of 9.5 billion euros, half of which is raised from exports.

Drop in China

France may be on track to be the world's biggest winemaker, but the news for its booze business isn't all good.

China's anti-corruption and frugality drive has hit France's wine and spirits industry hard as exports dropped more than 7 percent in the first semester, a leading trade body warned Tuesday.

The Middle Kingdom may have shot up to fifth place in France's list of best foreign clients, but its purchases -- which are usually in the high-end range -- suddenly melted away in the first six months of 2014, according to the Federation of French Wine and Spirits Exporters (FEVS).

These fell by nine percent in volume and by nearly a third in value, the trade body said.

"The anti-extravagance drive decided at the beginning of 2013 has clearly impacted the highest value-added products such as great cognacs and Bordeaux wines," Pierre Genest, deputy head of the federation, told AFP.

"The Chinese decision penalises us even more because it was sudden and we were not able to anticipate it, and because it targets the best-valued products."

Chinese President Xi Jinping has launched a graft crackdown since taking office last year with a series of high-profile takedowns of party officials that have sent shockwaves through an elite who once did little to hide their prosperity.

A related austerity drive -- ordering an end to excessive gift-giving and banquets within the state sector -- has also meant officials are wary of popping too many champagne corks or opening high-end bottles of wine.

According to FEVS, French wine and spirits exports in the first semester were worth 4.8 billion euros ($6.2 billion), a 7.3 percent drop from the same period in 2013.

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