PARIS - Reuters
France could permanently lose its status as the world's biggest wine producer to Spain as early as 2015 because Spanish wine growers are improving the yield of their vines while the French are cutting back.
"Spain already has the biggest wine-making area, so it is not a surprise that they are going to overtake France and Italy for good," winegrower Michel Issaly said Wednesday,
Issaly is the president of the French association of independent wine growers, which published a study this week by the Credoc research center.
Wine growers have been shifting their focus to higher quality and lower volume production to avoid drastic European Union-imposed cuts in the wine growing areas.
"Drinking behavior has changed dramatically and the youngsters nowadays hardly drink wine at all," Issaly said, noting there were bans on wine advertising in France.
French wines are also facing increasingly fierce competition on world markets from so-called New World wines from New Zealand to California and recently even from Britain.
Overall, wine consumption in France decreased by 2.6 percent between 2000 and 2008, and is set to fall by a further 1.1 percent between 2008 and 2015, the study said.
The study indicated that French wine production will decrease from an average of 52.8 million hectolitres per year between 2000 and 2004, to 43.9 million hectolitres in 2015, at a rate of 1.2 percent per year.
Spanish growers have boosted exports by 16.4 percent in the first quarter of 2008, while French exports fell 6.1 percent in volume.
"The Spanish have been far more clever than us, they have been able to associate wine with a healthy Mediterranean life style," Issaly added.