Even with government assistance, France's winemakers still have at least another 125 million bottles’ worth of wine they want off their hands.

By Mike Pomranz
May 12, 2020
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Due to the coronavirus pandemic, Europe has a glut of wine—with reports suggesting the unsellable amount could be well over a billion bottles’ worth. The main proposed solution has been to distill this excess vino into industrial alcohol that could be used for things like, fittingly in these times, hand sanitizer. (Similar plans are being used in the beer industry.) To help these winemakers out, the EU has a scheme to compensate them for this extra product; however, even at the relatively small price of 57 cents per 750 milliliters, the cost adds up when dealing with such large quantities, meaning wineries had to wait for government approval. Now, the French government has reportedly taken its first step: agreeing to compensate producers about $150 million for 250 million bottles’ worth of wine.

Yesterday, French officials announced what’s being called “the first series of specific support measures” for the country’s wine industry, according to The Drinks Business. Among a number of financial benefits, France approved this first round of “crisis distillation”—though the terms were not entirely what the industry had asked for. Le Figaro reports that wine growers were hoping to sell off 50 percent more wine (about 125 million bottles’ worth) at about seven cents more per 750 milliliters. In response, the Ministry of Agriculture apparently said this is only “a first step before a review of the effect of this measure on the market.”

Macduff Everton/Getty Images

Winemakers likely welcome any sort of relief, but a smaller-than-requested distillation package is only one of the industry’s problems. French producers have also been waiting for month after asking for $325 million in compensation to deal with the effect of the Trump administration’s wine tariffs applied last October. Le Figaro says that request hasn’t seen any progress—though, at the same time, the European Union suddenly has a lot more to worry about than a tariff dispute. Apparently, the issue will be revisited during the Council of European Ministers tomorrow.