Italian wine harvest begins 10 days early with heat, drought

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COCCAGLIO, Italy (AP) — The Italian wine grape harvest is having its earliest start in a decade due to the effects of the summer's heatwave and drought.

Producers of bubbly spumante in the Franciacorta area of Lombardy, some 80 kilometers (50 miles) east of Milan in northern Italy, officially launched the 2017 harvest on Friday, 10 days earlier than last year.

"Every year, we need to pay close attention to the vine. There is no longer certainty on when to harvest," said Claudio Faccoli, a winemaker whose label produces 55,000 bottles a year. "We need to keep an eye on the climatic situation."

The Coldiretti agricultural lobby said Italian wine production is expected to be 10 percent to 15 percent lower than last year due to weather conditions, which included in some areas an early bloom followed by late frost, while violent hailstorms struck elsewhere.

At the same time, the quality is expected to be excellent in places like Franciacorta, where there were periodic rains in June and July followed by intense heat, which creates more concentrated sugar levels optimal for wine production.

Last year, Italy produced 5.16 billion liters of wine. Coldiretti said this year's production would depend on weather conditions in the coming months. The harvest begins with pinot and chardonnay and continues into early October with grapes that yield more spicy red wines, like Valpolicella.

While some winemakers began their harvest in Sicily already at the end of July, some 20 days ahead of usual, the Coldiretti agriculture lobby considers the Franciacorta the bell-weather, signaling the start of widespread harvesting up and down the Italian peninsula.


Barry contributed from Milan.

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