PARIS (Reuters) - Barring bad weather in the next two months, France's champagne production is forecast to jump by 56 percent this year, a bright spot in an otherwise rough period for wine growers.
The rise would largely be a rebound from last year's exceptionally poor harvest, but still a 16 percent increase compared to the average output of the past five years, according to figures released this month by the agriculture ministry.
The forecast is more upbeat than a month ago, due to what the ministry described as good flowering and grape development throughout July thanks to sunny weather in the Champagne region.
The northern French region, which gave the sparkling wine its protected appellation, produces champagne for LVMH <LVMH.PA> - whose brands include Dom Perignon, Moet & Chandon and Veuve Clicquot - and also Laurent-Perrier <LPER.PA>, Vranken Pommery <VRKP.PA> and Pernod Ricard <PERP.PA>.
Thibaut Le Mailloux, spokesman for the Comite Interprofessionnel des Vins de Champagne (CIVC) trade association, said producers were not celebrating just yet.
The harvest is not due until the end of September and unexpected weather events could occur in the meantime, he said, pointing to the hailstorms that have hit Bordeaux and Burgundy since mid-July, but have so far spared most of Champagne.
"There is potential for a gorgeous harvest, both in terms of quality and quantity, but, as wine-growers say, until the grapes are pressed we can't guarantee anything," Le Mailloux said.
Even if output does meet the ministry's forecast, consumers won't be seeing many more bottles in stores - and they should not expect to pay less for the precious fizz, either.
Champagne is typically made from a mix of grapes from several years' harvests, and producers have already agreed that any surplus in production would not go into bottles to be sold but would instead be used to top up the vintage reserves they tapped heavily last year when the harvest was poor.
"Not only do these reserves allow us to enrich the aroma of the wines, they also serve as an insurance against bad weather," Le Mailloux noted.
Overall, the agriculture ministry forecast French wine production would rise 11 percent this year to reach the average yield of the past five years.
However, that estimate does not take into account the damage incurred in Bordeaux this month, when violent storms caused 80 to 100 percent losses in some 7,000 hectares (17,300 acres) of vineyards, about five percent of the region's overall wine area.
(Reporting by Natalie Huet; editing by Mike Collett-White)