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French Winemakers Expect 1994 to Be a Very Good Year

October 05, 1994|From Reuters

PARIS — France's winemakers are in a heady mood over this year's harvest, predicting it will yield a vintage of high quality but only average quantity. That result, they say, could herald strong demand and a slight upward pressure on prices.

Across the best-known wine regions, growers and producers pleased about 1994 are savoring the prospect of memorable wines at stable or slightly higher prices.

"We are happy men," Hubert Bouteiller of the Bordeaux Wine Council said last month. "At the moment, the conditions for harvest are exceptional."

A hot summer with much sun and just the right amount of rainfall has produced an early-maturing harvest from Bordeaux to Burgundy and Beaujolais, from Champagne to the Rhone, wine industry experts report.

Definitive evaluations, of course, will be made only after the grapes are picked, crushed, fermented and put into casks and bottles. But growers and producers have already conducted laboratory tests on the grapes as they near maturity. Winemakers acknowledge that they tend to be optimistic about each successive vintage at this time of year, but they say this year's harvest is of unusually uniform--and high--quality.

"The grapes have a good taste and they are fleshy, and the state of health of the vines is remarkable--all the characteristics for a good year," Bouteiller said.

Though he was speaking only of Bordeaux, home to some of France's finest red wines as well as the sweet white Sauternes, his words were echoed by experts from other prestige regions.

In Burgundy, source of some of the world's most costly and elegant wines, "everything is going well," said wine industry chemist Odile Meurgeus.

"We are entirely optimistic about both whites and reds, and for the Cote d'Or as well as the Cote de Beaune," she added in a telephone interview from Beaune, referring to the region's two priciest growing zones.

"Quality is very uniform, quantity is average, weather conditions continue to be favorable and there are no signs of disease on the vines," she said.

In the nearby Beaujolais region, home of the fruity red wines that are typically drunk young--often within months of the harvest--1994 will be of "high quality," the region's wine board said in a statement. "Maturity is excellent and the state of health of the vines appears exceptionally good."

In Champagne, where prices have tumbled on weak demand in recent years, growers and producers are optimistic about emerging from the doldrums this year. "We have high hopes for a lovely harvest," Champagne board director Andre Enders said.

Yields will be big enough to allow for a rigorous selection of grapes destined for those bottles bearing a vintage year, Enders said. Vintage champagne is produced only in the best years. Most champagne bottles bear no year on their labels, consisting as they do of blends of several years' harvests.

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