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Wednesday December 10, 2008

Italy becomes world's biggest wine producer

A bumper harvest is expected to push Italian wine production above that of neighboring France for the first time in a decade, making Italy the world's largest wine producer.

The Coldiretti farmers lobby estimates the production of Italian wine is up 8 percent over 2007 to 4.7 billion liters, compared with 4.44 billion liters in neighboring France, where production fell 5 percent.

Italy last surpassed France's production in 1998, and has since been reducing the area of land cultivated as vineyards in favor of improving quality, Coldiretti's wine expert Domenico Bosco said Wednesday.

Italy's strong harvest is largely due to good weather, Bosco said, which helped Sicily, in particular, recover from lower 2007 yields caused by a deadly fungus there.

While production is up, Coldiretti said the quality of Italian wines is also improving, with 60 percent earning the right to bear labels specifying marks of quality such as geographic origin or adherence to regional winemaking rules and traditions.

Production estimates by Assoenologi, an association of Italian wine producers, are slightly lower at 44.5 billion liters, or an increase of 5 percent.

According to Assoenologi, that gives Italy a 17 percent share of the world wine market and one-third of the European market.