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EU vinters recovering from bad year

BRUSSELS — The grape harvest in the European Union has picked up from the extremely bad 2012 season, wine experts said, though key regions in France are still struggling because of bad weather.

Several wine-producing regions had the worst harvest in a half-century last year, so European vintners want to regain global market share with a more bountiful harvest. Overall, EU production is estimated to swell by 15.2 percent compared with last year.

Thierry Coste, an expert with the EU farmers' union, said Wednesday that overall production will still be below the five-year average. France remained well below the 2011 levels, but Italy and Spain have enjoyed sizable increases.

"We are happy that we have broken with the negative spiral," Coste said.

The European harvest is essential to the global wine industry since the 28-nation EU accounts for about two-thirds of global production and 70 percent of exports, according to European Commission figures.

After output slumped to 148 million hectoliters in 2012 from an average of 175 million hectoliters, it's expected to be back up to about 170 million hectoliters this year. Coste said it will allow them to get back some market share lost to international competitors like South Africa and Chile.

Still, there was some bad news, especially in France.

"There have been some serious concerns due to weather vagaries for Bordeaux, the Loire Valley and Burgundy because the hail was much stronger and intense than usual," he said, referring to freak hailstorms in late spring that ravaged some of the finest French vineyards.

French production, which dropped from 50.2 million hectoliters in 2011 to 41.4 million last year, is expected to recover only to 44.1 million hectoliters.

Not all is bad news for France. The Champagne region, where an unusual growing season was followed by late harvesting, still has the promise of a great year, the local vintners' committee said.

The top European wines often do very well abroad. Overall, the EU vintners are specifically looking at the United States.

"What we are realizing today is that there is this high demand in the United States, and Europe can fulfill that demand," Coste said.

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