PARIS France is set to overtake Italy to reclaim its title as the world's top wine producer this year, according to estimates from the International Organisation of Vine and Wine OIV.L.
Helped by favourable weather conditions, France's production is forecast to rise by 9 percent, correcting a slump last year and allowing it to regain the crown it lost to its southern European neighbour four years ago.
The OIV predicts that French production will reach 50 million hectolitres this year, while Italy's output will fall by 13 percent to 42 million, its lowest in years.
In France, an exceptionally warm spring gave some producers a headstart, according to an agriculture ministry report, while Italy was hit by poor weather.
French winemakers also said a particularly warm and dry autumn made up for a cold and rainy summer.
"There were exceptional conditions in September and October," said Richard Kannemacher, director of marketing for CRINAO, the Alsace committee of wine experts. "There really was an Indian summer."
French vintners have suffered several years of bad weather, resulting in abnormally low yields, suggesting this year's rise was a return to the norm and would not mean lower quality wines.
"It didn't degrade the quality, as these are volumes we're used to treating," said Stephanie Piot, assistant to the President of the CCVF, a group of wine co-operatives across France.
Aside from poorer weather, Italy also lost close to 3 million hectolitres of wine because of vine replantings, which occurred to a lesser extent in France.
The OIV estimates that Germany and Austria would see gains of about 30 percent over last year, while Greek and Portuguese production would drop by 17 percent and Spanish by 2.
The OIV expects global production to remain stable, despite an overall drop in vineyard surface area.
The organisation was uncertain about the direction of wine consumption, which fell in 2008 and 2009 and rose a little in 2010.
(Reporting By Anna Maria Jakubek, editing by Paul Casciato)