The smallest Bordeaux wine harvest since 1991 has come as a welcome relief to producers, following a significant decline in sales to merchants in the last few months.

Winemakers in the Syndicat Viticole des Bordeaux et Bordeaux Supérieur, representing around half of the region's annual output, last year saw production fall 19% to 2.55m hectolitres.

The news comes amid indications that merchants are buying up less wine, with some estimates putting transactions between merchants and growers down by more than a third in the final quarter of 2008.

Syndicat president Bernard Farges told just-drinks last night (8 January): "Of course, a small harvest in itself is not a solution to the problems currently facing the trade.

"But had 2008 been a big or even an average-sized crop, there would have been far greater pressure on producers to offload stocks with potentially serious consequences for price stability as a whole in the sector."

Farges said it was difficult to put a concrete figure on transactions, but added: "Traders are likely to continue to run-down their existing stock levels."