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Weather Botches Italy Grape Harvest

November 9, 2002

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ROME (AP) _ Lovers of Italian wine have little reason to toast after a dry winter and a wet summer ravaged Italy’s grapevines, causing the worst harvest in half a century.

Producers of the more sought-after wines are warning consumers to gird for higher prices and smaller quantities when the 2002 labels hit stores.

Some of the worst-hit vintners, left with few, low quality grapes, have gone as far as to ``demote″ their grapes, using them to produce less refined wines.

Jacopo Biondi Santi, a producer in Tuscany of Brunello di Montalcino, one of Italy’s finest reds, was among those forced to take the decision.

``Our grapes have been damaged by dampness and mold, the skin is too thin and the alcoholic strength is too low. You just can’t make Brunello with these grapes,″ he said.

Biondi Santi said the absence of the Brunello production will cost his winery $3.98 million.

Experts say the summer showers and hail that hit the northern Italian regions of Piedmont, Tuscany and Veneto, where some of the more upscale wines are produced, came at the worst possible moment.

During the last days of summer, warm and dry weather is crucial to help thicken the grapes’ skin, which contains all the flavor and aromas of prestigious wines such as the golden Pinot Grigio or the heavy bodied reds Brunello di Montalcino and Barolo.

Some regions were spared the disasters, like the area in Tuscany where Chianti is produced and parts of southern Italy.

Still, in its yearly report on wine production, the Association of Italian Enologists said this year’s harvest will yield just 1.08 billion gallons, down 20 percent from last year.

Alberto Marchisio, an enologist at Cantina Terre del Barolo in Piedmont, said most winemakers have had to accept a reduced production in order to salvage quality standards.

``When bad weather hits, we prune our own vines, reducing the energy requirements on the plant and allowing only the best grapes to mature,″ Marchisio said.

The Cantina Terre del Barolo will see its production reduced by 30 percent, but according to Marchisio, the quality will remain good.

``It won’t be a five-star year, but it’s important not to be prejudiced. It’s better to taste first and judge later,″ Marchisio said.

Good quality and fewer bottles means the 2002 vintage will not come cheap.

The report from the Italian winemakers’ association warned that wholesale prices have already seen an increase between 10 to 30 percent. Upscale products are expected to fetch even higher prices.

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