Vines badly burnt by the sun and heat in a vineyard in Sussargues, southern France
© Sylvain Thomas/AFP/Getty ImagesVines badly burnt by the sun and heat in a vineyard in Sussargues, southern France, at the end of June.
French wine production will fall 12% this year after vines were damaged by spring frosts, drought and hail, but quality will remain generally good, the agriculture ministry said on Tuesday.

In its second estimate for 2019, the ministry forecast production of 43.4 million hectolitres, down from 49.4 million in 2018 when output had benefited from good weather condition.

Last month the farm ministry put French output in 2019 in a range of 42.8 million to 46.4 million hectolitres.

A hectolitre (100 litres) is the equivalent of about 133 standard wine bottles.

In many vineyards, flowering occurred in rainy and cold weather, while heat and hail have also contributed to a decline in production potential, the ministry said in a note.

However, the situation will vary by region.

Record-breaking heatwaves in June and July affected some regions in the south, such as the Gard, Herault or Var, causing burns on the grapes and production losses, it said.

By contrast, in some vineyards, early rainfall in August have helped to limit the impact of heat, while hail storms caused damage in the Beaujolais area where, along with Burgundy, output is expected to fall 26% from last year.

Champagne production this year is expected to drop 17% due mainly to hot weather, while Bordeaux output would shed 4%.

By mid-August, French vineyards had mostly caught up their delayed growth compared to 2018, when the harvest was one of the earliest, the ministry said.

French wine grapes are harvested in late summer and early autumn, and the ministry said its estimates were tentative given uncertainty over conditions until the harvest.

Separately, a U.S. threat to impose tariffs on French wine in response to a French tax on big digital companies is receding - albeit not lifted definitively, France's finance minister said on Tuesday.

Reporting by Sybille de La Hamaide; editing by David Evans