"Lucifer" threatens Italy’s wine producers

A searing heat wave forecasters have nicknamed "Lucifer" is bedeviling Italy's grape farmers.

The high temperatures, which have hovered near or above 100 degrees across much of Italy for weeks and which have been accompanied by months of drought, has brought forward this year's harvest by an average of 10 days. That's the earliest start to the grape harvest in a a decade, while production is also taking a hit.

Italy's annual wine harvest is the biggest in the world -- the U.S. ranks fourth in global wine production -- with Italy's wine industry employing about 1.5 million people.

"The high temperatures have created a drastic decline in production of about 10 to 15 percent," said Simone Frusca, a spokesman for Italy's agriculture lobby. 

Violent hailstorms and spring frosts also hurt some of the country's grapes.    

Despite the heat wave, many of the country's winemakers still see the glass as half-full. The "quantity" may not be there, but they say it could be a very good year in terms of "quality."

That's because excessive heat has prevented fungus and disease from spreading on the vines. And some Italian towns had occasional rain before the hot weather, leading to more concentrated sugar levels in the grapes.

Another reason winemakers are not completely panicked is technology that helps mitigate the impact of wildly changing weather.

"With the technology they have now for wine-making and cooling down grapes, when they make wine and things like that, it's a lot easier to manipulate... and not suffer a bad harvest," Roger Brown of Majestic Wines, told CBS News.

Last year, Italy produced about 1.5 billion gallons of wine, and Italian wine sales topped $12 billion. Agriculture industry officials predict the country will retain the title of world's biggest wine producer because chief rivals France and Spain have also had wild weather.