BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Heavy hailstorms and late frosts in spring and a hot, dry summer have damaged vineyards across Europe and are expected to result in the poorest wine grape harvest in 36 years, the EU's executive arm said on Wednesday.
The European Commission said production of pressed juice, or must, in Spain was set to be down 16 percent from 2015/2016 volumes. In France it would be 17 percent lower and in Italy down by 21 percent. In some areas, such as Sicily, the reduction could be as much as 35 percent.
Wine must production across the 28 members of the EU is seen at 145.1 million hectoliters, down 14 percent from the 2015/2016 level. This would be the lowest since 1981/82. A hectoliter is 100 liters.
There are expected to be some areas of improvement, such as a 23 percent increase in Austria, which was hit by late frosts last year and Romania, where must production is estimated to be 61 percent higher than in 2015/2016.
The Commission said its forecasts of the harvest could change as the situation became clearer. EU member states have to provide final figures to the Brussels-based Commission by March 15, 2018.
(Reporting by Philip Blenkinsop; Editing by Hugh Lawson)