In the first four months of the current sales campaign (September 2002-February 2003) the average price of French table wines per hectolitre/degree rose by just over 19% on the previous year to €4.08, figures from trade association, ONIVINS show.

While the situation is blamed on the low volume harvest in 2002, as far back as August last year, before grape-picking had begun, prices were already higher than those of the previous sales campaign.

In the Languedoc-Roussillion region, the 2002 harvest for table wines just managed to reach 16.5m hectolitres, the lowest volume since 1998 when hard frosts affected the crop.

Paradoxically, the crisis in the sector between 1999 and 2001, largely due to high production levels, led to contingency measures in the form of 2.8m hectolitres being withdrawn from the market.

ONIVINS say variations in volumes of only several thousand hectolitres are enough to destabilise the table wine market towards "absurd" price levels. It warns of the consequences for firms in the sector who are already having to cope with a steady decline in the consumption of this type of wine.