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World Wine Consumption Falls For First Time In Years

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PARIS — Shun that bottle and save your euros: That's what French and Italians are saying as the recession cuts into wine consumption in traditional lands of the vine.

An industry group says the crisis hasn't choked off everyone's thirst, however. New World drinkers are still sipping steadily and Brazilians "are really starting to believe in the vine."

After years of non-stop growth, global wine consumption started to retreat last year, along with the rest of the world economy, The International Organization of Vine and Wine said Tuesday.

The overall drop isn't too dramatic: The group says its initial estimates for 2008 show consumption down 0.8 percent, at 243 million hectoliters (6.4 billion gallons) compared to 2007's 245 million hectoliters.

But the latest figures on wine making and drinking around the world reveal a few key shifts.

For the first time, the United States surpassed Italy in terms of total wine consumption, with 27.3 million hectoliters compared to 26 million for Italy, the group said.

On the vineyard end, European vineyards accounted for less than half the world's grape production for the first time last year.

"It is obvious that the world economic crisis has played a role in lowering overall demand," the organization's director, Federico Castellucci, said at a news conference in Paris.

Consumption fell in all of Europe's major wine-producing and consuming countries, including France, Italy and Germany, Europe's biggest wine-drinking nations.

The United States, Canada and Australia saved the day by raising more and more glasses, partially offsetting the European drop.

Wine production figures were "not that great" either, Castellucci said, "especially in Europe."

Wines from the so-called "New World" _ Argentina, Chile, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand and the United States _ saw their share of global wine exports rise to nearly 30 percent last year, up from an average of 23.3 percent between 2001 and 2005. Italy remains the world's largest wine exporter measured by volume, although France keeps the title of biggest wine exporter in terms of value, Castellucci said.

Another bright spot in the wine world is Brazil, which now has about 100,000 hectares (247,000 acres) of vineyards, up from 79,000 hectares in 2005, but still behind Argentina's 225,000 hectares and Chile's 198,000 hectares.

So will springtime diners at sidewalk terraces along Paris' picturesque quais still be summoning the sommelier?

Castelluci, whose family has made wine in the Marches region of Italy for three generations, remained upbeat.

"I'm an optimist, especially for the mid and upper mid-level quality wines with a very good price-to-quality relationship," he said.

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