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Tuscany’s famed wine and olive oil industry suffers from heatwave and drought

A lack of rainfall since spring has affected even plants that traditionally thrive in hot and dry conditions

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Luigi Calonaci, an agricultural entrepreneur, shows his olive tree farm that is irrigated with a drip water system in Chianti, Italy. Photo: Reuters/Jennifer Lorenzini

Luigi Calonaci, an agricultural entrepreneur, shows his olive tree farm that is irrigated with a drip water system in Chianti, Italy. Photo: Reuters/Jennifer Lorenzini

Paolo Cianferoni stands in his winery in Radda in Chianti, Italy. Photo: Reuters/Jennifer Lorenzini

Paolo Cianferoni stands in his winery in Radda in Chianti, Italy. Photo: Reuters/Jennifer Lorenzini

Sergio Zingarelli, vice president of the Chianti Classico association, shows grapes on the vine already ripe before their time. Photo: Reuters/Jennifer Lorenzini

Sergio Zingarelli, vice president of the Chianti Classico association, shows grapes on the vine already ripe before their time. Photo: Reuters/Jennifer Lorenzini

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Luigi Calonaci, an agricultural entrepreneur, shows his olive tree farm that is irrigated with a drip water system in Chianti, Italy. Photo: Reuters/Jennifer Lorenzini

Farmers in Tuscany, the heart of Italy’s prized wine and olive oil industry, are battling to salvage as much as they can of this year’s crop from the ravages of drought and heatwave.

A lack of rainfall since spring has affected even plants that traditionally thrive in hot and dry conditions.

In San Casciano in Val di Pesa, near Florence, olive trees dot the picture-book hillsides, but the soil parched by the scorching sun is not producing enough fruit.

“Climatic issues had a decisive influence,” said olive grower Filippo Legnaioli.

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Paolo Cianferoni stands in his winery in Radda in Chianti, Italy. Photo: Reuters/Jennifer Lorenzini

Paolo Cianferoni stands in his winery in Radda in Chianti, Italy. Photo: Reuters/Jennifer Lorenzini

Paolo Cianferoni stands in his winery in Radda in Chianti, Italy. Photo: Reuters/Jennifer Lorenzini

“We had a very dry spring with practically no rainfall from March to today and this happened at a crucial time during the transition from flower to fruit,” added Legnaioli, president of the local “Frantoio Grevepese” cooperative.

Without water, many flowers fall to the ground before they can bear fruit. And with few olives on the branches, even the sparse harvest becomes an economic headache.

According to Legnaioli, this year’s oil production could be reduced by 50-60pc.

Other olive growers have decided to change their methods of cultivation, opting for a supplementary irrigation system that can offset the effect of drought and scorching heat.

“This year we use a, let’s say, ‘rescue’ irrigation to protect the production of olives on the plants, while on traditional olive trees, unfortunately, high temperatures and drought lead to the loss of many olives,” farmer Luigi Calonaci explained.

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Sergio Zingarelli, vice president of the Chianti Classico association, shows grapes on the vine already ripe before their time. Photo: Reuters/Jennifer Lorenzini

Sergio Zingarelli, vice president of the Chianti Classico association, shows grapes on the vine already ripe before their time. Photo: Reuters/Jennifer Lorenzini

Sergio Zingarelli, vice president of the Chianti Classico association, shows grapes on the vine already ripe before their time. Photo: Reuters/Jennifer Lorenzini

The system works through a black tube that has been set up beneath the trees and that spurts out small amounts of water.

The Calonaci farm has also opted to use white netting to protect the plants from olive fruit flies whose larvae feed on the fruit of the trees, a problem which is not directly related to the drought but can cause a big loss in yield.

Not only heat and lack of rain, but climate change also affects timings and the properties of wine.

In Castellina in Chianti, September is normally the month of the grape harvest, as it is throughout the country.

But with extreme and prolonged high temperatures, the bunches of grapes are ripening earlier than expected.

“We have smaller grapes, and we expect the number of grapes to be lower than the average of the last few years, probably in line with last year’s”, the vice-president of “Chianti Classico” Consortium, Sergio Zingarelli, told Reuters.

© Reuters

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