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Last Updated: Saturday, 23 August, 2003, 05:48 GMT 06:48 UK
Early harvest in Europe's vineyards
A wine harvest worker snips off grapes at the Castello Banfi vinyard in Montalcino, Tuscany, Italy
Italy is experiencing its hottest summer in 50 years
Europe's wine-growers are hoping for a vintage year as the exceptional summer heatwave has forced an early harvest.

Vintners in Italy are rushing to pick their grapes before they dry up in the heat.

But experts say the sunny weather looks like good news for growers and wine-drinkers alike.

The heat has killed off parasites and thickened the grapes' skins - which raises the alcohol and sugar content of the wine and produces its aromas.

Normally in this period we close down and go on holiday, but we've had to give that up
Alfonso Iannielli
Italian wine-maker
Wine growers in France are predicting a vintage year. Even though grapes are producing less juice for pressing, the taste is more intense than usual, experts say.

Depending on the final crop, Italian wines to watch are Chianti, Barolo and Brunello di Montalcino, says Luigi Mainetti, an official at Coldiretti, an Italian farmers' association.

One Italian wine-maker, Alfonso Iannielli, from Avio in the north-east, says he has already started gathering his Chardonnay and Pinot grapes.

"Normally in this period we close down and go on holiday, but we've had to give that up," he told Associated Press news agency. "Still there are some good sides to it.

"For instance, right now the children are not in school and they can take part in the harvest.

"This way it can be done all in the family, like it used to be."

It is still early days for many wine varieties though - heavy-bodied reds in particular.

"For the other grapes we are in the hands of God," says Pino Giaccone, a wine-maker in the Sicilian town of Donnafugata.

"We need just a little rain, not a lot, no calamities, just a little rain."

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