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    The French have just had some cheering news. Although farmers have been hit by the?

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    The French have just had some cheering news. Although farmers have been hit by the worst drought in a century and the government has had to levy a special tax to help, wine growers are rubbing their hands in anticipation of their harvest, for the sunny, cloudless summer was exactly what the grapes needed in many areas.

    SYNOPSIS: The happiest vineyard owners of all are probably in the Champagne district between Epernary and Reims. It will be three or four years before it can be drunk at its best, but champagne growers are sure 1976 is going to be remembered as a great year.

    The harvest has already begun and by the end of next week three and a half million imperial bushels (1,300,000 hectolitres) of wine should be in the cellars of Champagne. M. Dargent of the Interprofessional Committee of Champagne wine growers says the grapes are very sound and it will undoubtedly be a vintage year.

    There will be some relief amongst the growers, too, that the drought has not spoilt what could be a record breaking year for Champagne consumption especially within France. Home sales are continuing to rise and last year his an all time high of 94 million bottles, ten million bottles better than the previous record set in 1972.

    A nationwide advertising campaign after a slump in the 1974 home sales, helped produce the increase. The campaign was particularly successful in convincing the French that champagne is not a prestige drink fit only for kings or rare occasions.

    But big export losses were recorded in Britain and Italy, the two European countries hardest hit by the economic crisis. British consumption dropped from ten million bottles in 1973 to just over three million last year and the Italians, top foreign buyers in 1974 with 5.6 million bottles, fell to 3.8 million. But with last year's home sales so high and a vintage harvest despite the drought, Champagne growers, at least, can afford to be happy.

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    Reuters - Including Visnews
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