Rivers of unwanted wine to turn into biofuel

European vehicles will be running on distilled French and Italian wine again this summer as the upcoming season's surplus production from European vineyards is turned into biofuel.

Up to 510 million litres of this year’s surplus wine will be made into bioethanol that can only be used as biofuel or industrial alcohol, the European Commission announced on Wednesday.

French winemakers have been given a quota of 150m hectolitres of table wine and 150m of quality wine, while Italians can sell 250m of quality and 10m litres of table wine for what the EU calls “crisis distillation.”

Greek and Spanish winemakers have also asked the EU to to buy their unwanted wine, and are awaiting a response.

The EU will pay around 130m euros for this year’s surplus wine. Last year, more than 180m euros of EU cash went to pay for the distillation of wine for which buyers could not be found.

Turning quality wine into bioethanol may not be the cheapest way of producing biofuel, but it makes use of some of the excess wine that would otherwise go to waste.

Nevertheless, the EU aims to put an end to the practice by cutting the amount of surplus wine produced. Agriculture commissioner Mariann Fischer Boel said: “Crisis distillation is becoming a depressingly regular feature of our common market organisation for wine.

“While it offers temporary assistance to producers, it does not deal with the core of the problem – that Europe is producing too much wine for which there is no market. That is why a deep-rooted reform of the sector is needed urgently.”

The EU strategy aimed at cutting waste in the viticulture industry will be unveiled when Mariann Fischer Boel presents her plans for reforming the sector on 22 June.

The plans foresee introducing new production methods to bring down prices and make European wine more competitive on the global market.

Goska Romanowicz

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