MILAN (Reuters Life!) - Export of wine from Italy, a major producer in Europe, fell in volume last year under strong competitive pressure with traditional European markets taking the biggest hits, the industry body said this week.
Wine export volumes dropped 7 percent to 17.8 million hectoliters in 2008, but its value edged up 2 percent to 3.6 billion euros ($4.57 billion), Unione Italiana Vini (UIV) said in a statement.
"We are closing a difficult year, but our product has managed to hold on to the positions gained in the past," UIV Chairman Andrea Sartori said in the statement.
Sartori said growing competition from the United States, Argentina, Chile and South Africa hit not only Italian wine makers but their French rivals and other European producers.
"The challenge for this and coming years will be ... to be ever more competitive, improving an average quality of our products and boosting communication about the value of Italian wine," Sartori said.
Exports to Germany, the biggest consumer of Italian wine in terms of volume, dropped 10 percent to 5.6 million hectoliters, while exports to France and Austria plunged 27 percent and 26 percent respectively, UIV said.
Sales of Italian wine on the U.S. market, its biggest export destination in terms of value and the third-largest in volume, fell 4 percent to 800 million euros. Sales volumes eased 2 percent, UIV said.
Italian wine reputation in the United States, one of the world's biggest wine markets, was hit last year by investigations into authenticity of premium red wines made by some producers from Montalcino and Montepulciano in Tuscany.
On the bright side, Italian wine sales to Russia jumped 36 percent in volume and 12 percent in value last year, with Russia become the 12th biggest market for Italian wine.
Italian wine export to Hong Kong, seen as a gateway to greater China, soared 29 percent and sales on the United Arab Emirates market saw an explosive 50 percent growth in volume and more than doubled in value, UIV said.
(Reporting by Svetlana Kovalyova, editing by Paul Casciato)