Last week a trip through the Bordeaux vineyards showed that the 1971 harvest would be far below average in quantity, especially among the reds, but excellent in quality.
A recent visit to Champagne, a talk in a Paris bistro with a Loire Valley grower and an interview with an official of the Institut National des Appellations d'Origine complete the picture of France's 1971 vintage as the harvest comes to an end in most areas.
According to Georges Vesselle, in charge of G.H. Mumm & Co.'s 500 acres of vineyards in Champagne, the crop is very fine and is bound to produce vintage champagne, which happens only in very good years.
Unfortunately, the quantity is low this year because of a crop failure in June when rain knocked many flowers off the vines before they were fertilized and a hailstorm in late August which struck mostly black-grape areas. One-quarter of the Champagne vineyards were hit with losses which may amount up to 50 percent.
Overall, this means that 1971 should produce only about a third as much as last year's record 200 million bottles. The price of grapes also went up 10 percent from 4.88 francs to 5.41 a kilogram, but this is not the basic reason for the 3-franc rise in price announced by Mumm.
Despite last year's huge crop, which only served to replenish depleting stocks, sales have been climbing so fast that there just is not enough champagne to go around. Over the past 12 months 108 million bottles of champagne were sold and 1971 will only produce about 70 million to replace them.
Other companies have also announced across-the-board price rises to slow sales. This will be particularly felt in the United States coming on top of the 10 percent surcharge on imports, and Mumm, as the No. 1 exporter to America, with about 1.2 million bottles out of total sales of 5.3 million, will be hard hit.
Grower Paul Maitre, from the red-wine area of Bourgueil in the Loire Valley, reports similar conditions in his region. The grapes are healthy and should make a full-bodied, long-lasting tannic wine similar to 1969, but the same June rains has kept quantity low, especially among red wines.
Marcel Lugan, chef de service for the INAO, confirms these predictions for Bordeaux, Champagne and the Loire, and adds that while there was also a crop failure in Burgundy, the Rhône Valley and the Midi (where most of the ordinary wines come from), the effects are much less. Everywhere quality seems very high.
Overall quantity will be down from 5 to 10 percent. 1971 is expected to produce about 1.5 billion gallons of wines, compared to an average over the last 10 years of 1.67 billion gallons.
Burgundy should produce rich, long-lasting red wines. Beaujolais is likely to be dark in color and heavier than usual. Chablis and Pouilly-Fuissé should be especially fine among the whites, but Puligny-Montrachet was totally wiped out by a hailstorm.
Despite the price rises in Champagne and a 20 percent increase in prices in Burgundy, Mr. Lugan feels that prices should now level off.
Exporters seem to be holding off orders to some extent, waiting until November to see just how good the quality is. The surcharge and floating dollar should have some effect on American demand, and restaurant clients seem to be diminishing in France. Nevertheless, owners of classified Bordeaux châteaux have not indicated trouble in selling their produce.