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European experts say grape harvest is worst in half-century

BRUSSELS — Winemaker Cherie Spriggs had watched the bad weather over southern England’s vineyards all season long. It just wasn’t good enough for Nyetimber, her award-winning sparkling wine.

‘‘I have never seen a situation like this before,’’ Spriggs said as the grapes failed to deliver. She was left with only one option and the company decided to forgo the 2012 harvest.

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Few have gone as far as Nyetimber, but drought, frost, and hail combined to ravage Europe’s wine grape harvest, which in key regions this year will be the smallest in half a century, vintners say.

Thierry Coste, an expert with the European Union farmers’ union, said Wednesday that France’s grape harvest is expected to slump by almost 20 percent compared with last year. Italy’s grape crop showed a 7 percent drop — on top of a decline in 2011.

‘‘Two big producing nations, France and Italy, have not known a harvest so weak in 40 to 50 years,’’ Coste said.

France’s Champagne and Burgundy regions were hard hit by weather conditions that particularly affected the prevalent Chardonnay grape, used to make the world’s most famous sparkling wine and the luxurious whites from those regions. Nyetimber also depends on Chardonnay.

In places where vintners were already expecting a small margin of profit, many could be facing survival problems, said Coste.

The European wine harvest automatically has a global impact because it accounts for some 62 percent of the worldwide wine production.

It won’t mean any immediate drought for consumers as retailers typically offer a wide range of vintages. And taste often wins when yields are small.

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