French winemakers will transform wine that was not sold during the two months of coronavirus containment in the country into hand sanitizer and ethanol to make room for the next harvest, an agricultural agency said on Thursday.
Sales and exports of wine, particularly to the United States, plunged at the height of the coronavirus crisis, leaving winemakers millions of liters of unsold wine.
“From tomorrow, 33 approved distillers will be able to collect and distill wine,” Didier Josso, head of the wine sector at the FranceAgriMer agricultural agency, said during a video conference call.
Alcohol from distillation is used exclusively for the pharmaceutical and cosmetic industries and for the production of hand sanitizers, as well as for the production of ethanol.
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“Distilled wine should never be used to make spirits,” said Josso.
“Ethanol will probably also have to be stored, but the volumes will be less than for wine,” he added.
Each winemaker has until June 19 to indicate the amount they wish to distill.
In return, they will receive 78 euros in compensation if the wine is certified as belonging to a region and 58 euros otherwise.
European public funds will finance the distillation of two million hectoliters of French wine after Brussels has given the green light to the exceptional measure.
Experts said three million hectoliters needed distillation.
Large wine producing countries such as Spain and Italy have used similar measures to control excess, as well as the exceptional destruction of young vines.
The coronavirus pandemic added to the woes of the French wine industry, which had already suffered a setback last year with a drop in exports to the United States with the entry into force of punitive tariffs.
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