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Poor European grape harvest in 2017 means more expensive wines to come

Grapes Auvernier Switzerland September 2017

The spring frosts, hailstorms and the summer heat wave called "Lucifer" mean that Italian and French wine producers are facing one of the worst grape harvests for years in 2017. Yields may be well down, but winemakers are at least optimistic about quality because of the warm summer weather. Swiss and Hungarian winemakers have also been affected.

Italian wine body Assoenologi estimated that Italy would see one of its smallest wine harvests for 60 years in 2017, down by 25% on 2016 at 41.1 million hectolitres or 5.5 billion bottles. Tuscany, Sicily, Puglia, Umbria and Abbruzzo yields will be likely even lower at 30% versus last year but Piedmont, Veneto and Friuli will see their harvests a little better at 15% smaller than 2016.

Berries are smaller, with Italian winemakers confident that wines will be concentrated and balanced.

France is looking at the smallest grape harvest since 1945, with frost and hail the culprits. Bordeaux’s Right Bank, Burgundy, Loire and Alsace were hit hard this year by freak hail storms and severe frosts. Bad news after the havoc that frost caused in 2016 in some wine producing areas of France.

Large, rich Chateaus had the money to use frost avoidance measures such as helicopters to circulate the air over their vineyards. Smaller producers, were less fortunate. Frost hit Chablis and parts of the  the Côte de Nuits in Burgundy, and hailstorms ravaged parts of Fleurie and other areas of Beaujolais.

Grape production this year may be down by fall by 17 percent to between 37 million hectolitres (4.9 billion bottles) and 38.2 million hectolitres, versus 45.5 million in 2016, according to France's ministry of agriculture. But at least the Champagne harvest is expected to rise by 8 percent and in Burgundy and Beaujolais, a good flowering period means production will rise by 14 percent versus a small 2016 crop.

Bordeaux 2017 production has been hit particularly hard as the spring frosts are said to have caused a 50% fall in production versus 2016, with the Right Bank even worse. But a warm late spring and summer meant reasonable flowering and good ripening as 2017 progressed. In Alsace, frost means 30% lower production than in 2016, with early budding grape, Gewurztraminer,  the most impacted.

In the Loire, frost has cut production by 10% to 40% in some places. But, overall, the region’s growers are set to pick 15 days earlier than average and production will rise by 7 percent versus 2016, which was also hit by frost.

A very Hot early summer weather means that the growing season across France was running around 10 and 20 days ahead of normal, which helped ripening of the  grapes not destroyed by the frosts, hail or extreme heat.

Lower production across Europe in 2017, means that the vintage will be more expensive when it is released to consumers.