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European Heat  Wave Promises Exceptional Vintages

While some Europeans have suffered from what in some areas has been the worst heat wave in 50 years, one group of people has benefited.

Grape growers say the intense heat this year has killed off mold and parasites from the vines, and made the skin of the grape thicker. And the heat also raises sugar levels in the grapes and consequently the alcohol content of the wine.

Christiane Blum is with Luxembourg's Institute of Viniculture and Vinification.

"I think it will be a rather special year," she said. "The sugar concentration is rather high. There are not much [many] diseases so the grapes are very healthy."

Thanks to the heat, many vineyards are expecting an early harvest. In Luxembourg it could come two or three weeks earlier than usual, according to Ms. Blum, placing it around the first week of September.

In Germany, which produces fine white wines, growers say the grapes are unusually healthy and sweet. In Spain, which prizes its reds, the sun has deepened the color of the grape skins and consequently the wine. In France, which produces many reds, whites and rose's, winemakers are hoping 2003 will become a famous year. In England, not generally known for its wines, grape growers are reporting their best crop in years.

However, winemaking is more of an art than a science, and those in the industry are waiting to see the final result. High temperatures also mean lower acidity, which is a problem for some white wines. The hot and dry conditions also mean a smaller harvest, but one that is higher in quality.

However, other crops in Europe have been devastated by the heat. In Italy some farmers have reported a total loss of their harvest.

There is one odd effect of the weather. In Germany part of the River Spree is actually flowing backwards, according to authorities in Berlin. Weeks of dry weather have reduced the flow and all the water going downstream is being channeled straight into the city's water supply, according Die Welt newspaper. As a result, water in some parts of the river lower downstream has begun moving upstream.