Cellars across Europe are sitting on surplus wine for several reasons, including lost sales due to the coronavirus epidemic and a sharp drop-off in orders from the US due to new import tariffs.
France’s agriculture minister, Didier Guillaume, told Europe 1 that he envisaged draining the country’s stocks through a ‘crisis distillation’ scheme.
If approved, wineries would be able to apply for funding to turn excess stocks into industrial alcohol.
Similar policies could be introduced in other EU countries after the European Commission this week said it would support ‘crisis management measures’ in wine and other agriculture sectors.
There is around one billion litres of excess wine across Europe, according to Eric Andrieu, a member of the European Parliament and representing the Aude wine-producing area of France’s Languedoc-Roussillon.
Andrieu, who sits on the European Parliament’s agriculture committee, estimated this month that France, Spain and Italy each had a surplus of around 300 million litres.
He also suggested that paying winemakers to distill surplus wine into ethanol could create a new source of alcohol to meet heightened demand for hand sanitiser during the coronavirus epidemic. However, that has not been confirmed as part of any policy plans.
Many in the wine sector will remember a period when funds for ‘crisis distillation’ were used more regularly by European producers.
The European Commission’s reform of the EU wine sector over the last decade was designed to reduce surplus production and re-orient subsidies towards boosting quality and marketing. Winemakers were paid to rip out vines, as part of the reforms.
Approval is required in Brussels if an EU member state wishes to divert agriculture funds for crisis distillation.
The European Commission did not specifically name the policy in a press statement this week, but it said that it would accept a flexible approach to ‘market support programmes’ for wine, alongside other special measures for agriculture.
‘This will allow the reorientation of funding priorities towards crisis management measures,’ it said.