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Elixir of life

France to transform surplus wine into hand sanitizer

After pandemic severely harms exports, millions of unsold liters will be distilled and repurposed to fight the virus

Wine barrels sit in a wine cellar in the southern France region of Provence, October 11, 2019. (AP Photo/Daniel Cole)
Wine barrels sit in a wine cellar in the southern France region of Provence, October 11, 2019. (AP Photo/Daniel Cole)

PARIS, France — French winemakers will transform wine that went unsold during the country’s two-month coronavirus lockdown into hand sanitizer and ethanol to make room for the next harvest, a farming agency said on Thursday.

Wine sales and exports, particularly to the US, plunged at the height of the coronavirus crisis, leaving winemakers with millions of liters of unsold wine.

“From tomorrow, 33 licensed distillers will be able to collect the wine and distill it,” said Didier Josso, head of the wine branch in the farming agency FranceAgriMer, at a video press conference.

The alcohol resulting from the distillation is exclusively reserved for the pharmaceutical and cosmetic industry and the production of hand sanitizer, and for the production of ethanol.

“The distilled wine in no case is to be used to make spirits,” said Josso.

“There will probably be a need to stock ethanol as well, but the volumes will be less significant than for wine,” he added.

Hand sanitizers sits among other items in the East J Barbershop in Sacramento, California, May 27, 2020. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

Each winemaker has up until June 19 to indicate the amount he or she wishes to distill.

In return they will receive 78 euros in compensation if the wine is certified as belonging to a region and 58 euros if not.

European public funds will finance the distillation of two million hectoliters of French wine after Brussels gave its green light for the exceptional measure.

Experts said three million hectoliters were in need of distilling.

Major wine-producing countries such as Spain and Italy have resorted to similar measures to regulate the excess, as well as to the exceptional destruction of young grape vines.

The coronavirus pandemic has added to the woes of the French wine industry, which had already suffered a setback last year with a drop in exports to the US as punitive tariffs kicked in.

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