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Italy by numbers

Published:  18 January, 2007

A couple of years ago we dedicated our January column to some statistics relating to Italian wine production. It seems to have been well received, so we thought we'd do a similar thing this year - perhaps less in the form of a list than last time. The data have been supplied by Assoenologi, the Association of Italian Oenologists.

In 2005, Italy produced 47.5 million hectolitres of wine - nearly six million fewer than in 2004, and more than two million fewer than the average for the previous five years, despite the inclusion in that period of the very short vintages of 2002 and 2003.

Turnover in wine in the Italian industry today is about e9 billion, about one third of which comes from exports. 60% of Italian wine is red, 40% is white; the tiny but growing figure relating to ros is presumably included in the

red department.

Almost half of all wine production in Italy is attributable to cooperatives.

Compare 2005 Italian production to a worldwide figure of 286 million hl in the years 2001 to 2003. Of this, 171 million hl were produced in the EU. The EU's portion of world production is therefore 60% and Italy's is around 17% (not long ago it was about one third, with France representing another third). Italy's share of EU production was about 28%.

Further light is shone on Italy's dwindling production by the fact that, during the years 1985 to 1994, it turned out an average of 64.2 million hl. Over the decade 1995 to 2004, the average was down to 52.9 million hl.

In 1980, 123,000 hectares were planted to the vine in Italy. In 1990, the figure was down to 97,000ha. Today,

the figure stands at around 79,000ha. So, in just 10 years, Italy has lost 18,000ha - the approximate equivalent of the total hectarage of Piedmont and Sicily combined.

The following statistics throw a rather glaring light on Italian production costs, indicating a serious erosion in Italy's ability to compete economically with New World producers:

The average number of hectares per producer today is 1.3. It's going in a positive direction, you might say, since in 1980 that figure was 0.7ha. Nonetheless, compared with France's average of 7ha per producer, that's still peanuts, especially if you compare it with the Midi's 20ha. All of which pales into nothingness against Australia's average of 300ha per producer.

The average number of working hours per person per hectare at present is 400. That's an awful lot, and projections are that the figure will be roughly halved by the year 2020. We don't have figures in this respect for the New World, but you can bet they are a good bit lower than that. Of course, the most costly item in any vineyard owner's budget is generally labour. The trend is very worrying in respect of productivity, as bigwigs like Piero Antinori, Emilio Pedron of GIV and Gianni Zonin have pointed out. You can understand where the doom-mongers get their material.

There are approximately 810,000 grape growers in Italy, 110,000 of which bottle VQPRD wines. There are 30,000 bottlers. In Chile there are 140 bottlers. In Australia, four bottlers account for 70% of wine production.

One of the most confusing aspects of Italian wine is the profusion of names, including unfamiliar grape varieties, obscure place names and, in the past 30 years or so, a profusion of fantasy names. While the New Worlders keep it simple with their varietal names, Italians like naming wines after their grandfather, their lucky number, their deceased dog, musical notes, an ex-lover, whatever The 30,000 bottlers average five labels apiece - that's 150,000 labels. For a consumer population seeking simplicity and ease of understanding, it's a big turn-off.

Home consumption has been falling for several decades. Thirty years ago the per capita consumption was well over 100 litres a year; today, it's down to 48.

Export-wise, sales dipped in the early part of the present decade. In 2003, export volumes fell by 16%; however, 80% of that loss was in the bulk-wine sector. 2001 was the first year in which bottled wine surpassed bulk wine for export.

But it's not all doom and gloom. In 2004, there was an improvement of 5% in volume of wine exported; 6% in value terms. Italy recently overtook France as the biggest supplier of imported wine in the United States. On the other hand, sales have fallen badly in Germany, which until 2001 was a booming market for Italian wines at all price levels. In the UK, Italian wines, historically second after France, have slipped to fifth position behind Australia, California and South Africa, with Chile coming up fast. All of which just shows that wine generally is doing well in the UK, because Italian wine imports to the UK in the first six months of 2004 were up 16.6% by volume.