* One of the smallest harvests in 20 years in many regions
* Champagne better off with a jump in output
* Promising quality throughout the country
By Sybille de La Hamaide
BORDEAUX, France, Sept 13 French wine producers
said they were expecting a small but high-quality 2013 vintage
after violent storms and the coldest spring in more than 25
years afflicted vineyards.
Output was expected to fall to some of the lowest levels in
two decades in many parts of the world's largest wine-producing
country, they said, as the harvest started in the south.
But dry and warm summer weather that helped ripen the grapes
should keep up the quality, barring any more problems with the
weather, they added.
"Everything is in place, producers are optimistic,"
Jean-Philippe Gervais, technical director of the Burgundy Wine
Board, told Reuters.
Raging storms and hail destroyed up to 90 percent of the
vines in parts of the Bordeaux and Burgundy regions this summer,
while cool and damp conditions across the country in June
hampered grape growth.
This prompted the agriculture ministry to cut its estimate
for this year's wine output on Monday.
France is now expected to produce 44.5 million hectolitres
(hl) of wine in 2013 - the equivalent of nearly 6 billion
75-centilitre (cl) bottles - above last year's weather-hit
harvest of 41.4 million hl but well below average.
Prices should rise in consequence but only modestly as
producers feared losing clients.
"In 1991, we lost part of the harvest of white (grapes).
Prices rose and that made us lose some of our markets. The
lesson has been learned," said Olivier Bernard, head of the
Union des Grands Crus de Bordeaux, which promotes nearly 140 of
the region's top producers.
MORE AND BETTER CHAMPAGNE
Champagne lovers were due to have a better year, producers
said. "This year's harvest is looking very good and much better
than in 2012," said Pierre-Emmanuel Taittinger, executive
chairman of Taittinger champagne, one of the last remaining
major family-owned brands.
He expected a 30-50 percent rise in output on last year,
which was particularly bad in the north.
Further south in the Beaujolais region, Frederic Laveur, who
promotes wines from the Beaujolais and Beaujolais-Villages
areas, said a late-June flowering had led to smaller bunches of
grapes and, therefore, smaller quantities of juice.
"To compensate it will ripen faster, easier, and the juice
will be more concentrated," he said.
Overall, grape-picking will start two to three weeks later
than normal because of the slow development of the fruit, said
producers. Red grape picking was not expected to start until
early October in the Bordeaux region, the added.
But, weather allowing, there was still time for good quality
grapes to develop. "There is a great potential for red wines'
quality but like in tennis matches, it is the last set that
determines the winner," said Paul Pontallier, director of the
prestigious Chateau Margaux label.
(Additional reporting by Catherine Lagrange in Lyon, Claude
Canellas,; Gus Trompiz and Astrid Wendlandt in Paris; Editing by
Ingrid Melander/Mark Heinrich)