Tuscan winemakers see tough 2009 as crisis bites

Thu Feb 19, 2009 3:26pm EST
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By Svetlana Kovalyova

MILAN (Reuters Life!) - Sales of top-shelf wines from Tuscany are set to suffer this year as global economic downturn drains consumer thirst for full-body reds, the region's winemakers said on Thursday.

"We are coming out of a very difficult year. The crisis has hit our sector which suffers inevitably from a fall in tourism," Federico Carletti, chairman of consortium of makers of full-body reds Rosso and Nobile di Montepulciano, said in a statement.

"The 2009 outlook is uncertain, to say the least, because of excess supply and unbelievable competition for the markets," Carletti said as his and other Tuscan wine groups unveil new vintage wines to sector operators and journalists this week.

Consumer sentiment across borders soured with people getting more reluctant to open their wallets for a premium red as the financial crisis spilled over to other economic sectors.

In 2008, sales of the premium red Nobile di Montepulciano fell to 7 million bottles from 8 million in 2007, while Rosso sales dropped to 2.5 million bottles from 3.2 million, according to data from Consorzio del Vino Nobile di Montepulciano.

Montepulciano's reds of 2008 -- some of which will be put on sale in a couple of months -- have been assigned a four-star rating by experts, as last year's erratic weather dented quality and drove ratings down from the five-star high which was assigned to the 2007 vintage a year ago.

Stefano Campatelli, director of the consortium which unites makers of the famous Brunello di Montalcino, said sales have been weak so far this year.

"The international crisis weighs. Sales have been slow at the start of this year, even if we are selling the five-star 2004 vintage," Campatelli told Reuters.   Continued...

<p>A general view of the valley under the Tuscan village of Castelfalfi, Italy June 24, 2007. REUTERS/Giampiero Sposito</p>