France is expecting a wine grape harvest of around 48m hectolitres in 2009, up from 2008 in a tough period for French wine sales at home and abroad.

If correctly predicted, a harvest of 48m hectolitres (hl) would be 5m hl higher than in 2008, yet still below France's five-year average of 51m, according to Government agency FranceAgriMer.

The expected rise comes as French winemakers and merchants face an increasingly tough market.

In France, year-to-date white table wine sales are down 17% by volume on the year before, with red and rosé table wine down a combined 23%, according FranceAgriMer figures up to July. Vins de pays sales by volume are down 4% for whites and 14% for red and rosé, compared to the same period of 2008.

"Exports, for the EU and 'third countries' [non-EU], have seen heavy falls since the beginning of the year," said Jérome Despey, president of FranceAgriMer's wine council. "Sparkling wines and appellation (AOC) wines have been the hardest hit," he added.

French wine exports fell by 15.5% by volume and and 29% by value in the first three months of 2009, compared to same period a year earlier, according to figures released at the Vinexpo wine show in June by UbiFrance, an consultancy group linked to the French Government.

At Vinexpo, the president of French wine firm JeanJean told just-drinks that French wineries must consolidate or face ruin.