PARIS -- Grape vines in the Champagne region are sagging this year with an abundance of fruit. But this won't mean increased supply -- or cheaper bottles of bubbly for consumers.
It may, however, mean a very good vintage.
In Champagne -- where the wine was served to kings for centuries to celebrate coronations -- large harvests tend to produce great wines, said Daniel Lorson, spokesman for the Committee of Champagne Wines.
This harvest has the potential to be the Champagne region's largest since it first started recording yields about 100 years ago, Lorson said.
''We are hoping this will be a very good vintage," he said. ''All the signs are in place, but it is still too early to tell. We are still at the stage of hopes and expectations. That said, we are very optimistic."
From Bordeaux to Burgundy and beyond, France's wine regions are welcoming a return to normal after last year's harsh frosts and devastating heat wave. The result of that bad weather was often smaller, more sugary grapes, presenting problems for some vintners.
Instead of the early and unusually small harvest of 2003, a copious yield is in store this year, vintners and wine officials say.
They say this harvest should produce some 1.55 billion gallons of wine for all of France -- compared with about 1.45 billion gallons in a normal year. Last year, the yield dropped to 1.25 billion gallons.
The harvest started Monday in Champagne country, some 90 miles northeast of Paris. Even though vines are heavy with fruit, not all will be harvested. The amount of grapes gathered is strictly regulated by the INAO, an organization that sets yearly limits for each wine region. The measures are designed to ensure quality.
Vintners, citing the soft autumnal weather, are hopeful that 2004 will produce good wines.
''One of the rules of the art is that the quality of the vintage depends on the quality of the climate during the grape gathering," said Denis Verdier, president of Onivins, the French national wine office.
''The indicators are very good. If the weather stays nice, we'll go toward a very good year quality-wise," he said.
After a worrisome rainy August, vintners and their vineyards have basked in September sun.
''At the end of August, we were fairly worried because there was too little sun and too much water," said Cyril Brum, an oenologist at famed Champagne house Veuve Clicquot.
''We have been lucky that, since the beginning of September, we have had only two days of sporadic rain and lots of sun. So we've nearly made up for the delay we were facing at the end of August."
In Bordeaux, harvesting began Monday for the earliest white wine grapes and begins late this week for more famous reds like Saint-Emilion, Pomerol, or Graves, according to Florence Raffard of the Council of Bordeaux Wines.
Bordeaux is also looking at a large volume of grapes. But like all wine regions, it also faces restrictions on how much wine can be produced -- in its case, 1,320 gallons per 2.5 acres.
This year is more stable and predictable than last year, when acidity levels were too low to balance unusually high sugar levels, Raffard said.
''This year is more classic in terms of climate," she said. ''We will probably see wines that are more typical of Bordeaux."
The earliest harvest began Aug. 23 in the southeastern Provence region, noted for its light wines.
Elsewhere, the harvest is staggered with grape-pickers swarming through vineyards in September and all harvesting completed by the end of October.
And grapes that will likely be left on vines this year won't go unappreciated.
''It is the deer and the animals who eat them," said Veuve Clicquot's Brum. ''The birds are happy to eat the grapes that aren't harvested."