Coronavirus crisis distillation being mulled in France, and elsewhere

Monday April 13 2020 by Vitisphere

 Crisis distillation is still at the discussion stage, though being seriously considered, and is one of a series of measures requested by the wine industry. Crisis distillation is still at the discussion stage, though being seriously considered, and is one of a series of measures requested by the wine industry. - Photo credit : BnF, Gallica (alambics pour eaux-de-vie de vin Deroy Fils Aîné)

As the coronavirus epidemic tightens its grip and the effects of lockdown start to bite, there is no room for half measures. The longer the Covid-19 crisis drags on, the longer the list of support measures considered by the wine industry. It is no exaggeration to say that the stars are certainly not aligned for wine sales at the moment – after American tariffs, competitive disadvantages in China and a slump in red wine consumption, the sector now has to deal with the impact of Covid-19.

In a press release dated 3 April, the Association of European Wine Regions (AREV) asked legislators to “begin subsidised distillation of appellation wines affected by the drop in demand, on the initiative of producers’ organisations”. The solution has been under scrutiny by the French wine industry, led by the General Association of Wine Production (AGPV), for weeks and could involve all GI-labelled wines (PDO and PGI).

This is the view taken by MEP Eric Andrieu who, in a position statement released on 8 April, asked the European Commission to distil a surplus of 10 million hectolitres of EU wine, a third of it French. Calling for the rapid implementation of this short-term measure “between June and August” to take the burden off wineries in the run-up to the next harvest, the MEP alluded to a “distillation cost of 80 cents per litre, or €80 per hectolitre, based on the fact that the wines are primarily protected designation of origin (PDO) and protected geographical indication (PGI)”.

The issue of crisis distillation has now become European, and is also being asked for by Spanish (through Catalonia’s Unió de Pagesos for cavas) and Italian (by Coldiretti) wine regions, which are also considering cluster thinning to provide market relief. European industry groups believe that distillation cannot be the sole solution. “The idea is to ask for emergency measures to be triggered, for distillation, but also for storage. Distillation may seem to be the right solution for certain areas or companies, but for others private storage aid would also be worthwhile. The measure is not very expensive and is easy and quick to implement”, said Thierry Coste, chairman of the Copa-Cogeca wine group.

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