Turning wine lakes into fuel

BRUSSELS – The European Union has opened tenders to sell off unwanted wine lakes in five countries to produce bioethanol, its Official Journal said yesterday. The tenders would offer 693,380.74 hectoliters of wine held in France, Greece, Italy, Portugal and Spain to companies ready to put it to «exclusive use as bioethanol in the fuel sector.» Of this, 250,000 hectoliters was held in Italy, France had 200,000 hectoliters and Spain 150,000. The balance of 53,380.74 hectoliters was stored in Greece, with a further 40,000 hectoliters in Portugal. The deadline for bids is October 23. After any sales had been concluded, the national intervention agency in the country concerned would check that the wine had been transformed into bioethanol, the Journal said. «A tendering procedure for the sale of wine alcohol for exclusive use as bioethanol in the fuel sector in the Community should be organized… with a view to reducing Community stocks of wine alcohol,» the Journal said. France, Italy and Spain are the EU’s three largest winemakers by volume. Last year they received more than 180 million euros in EU cash to distill some of their excess wine, both table and quality, into industrial alcohol or biofuel. Earlier this year, EU Agriculture Commissioner Mariann Fischer Boel presented four broad policy options for reforming the wine sector, the world’s most important by far. But she has said publicly that she favors abolishing the existing system of «crisis distillation,» an emergency market tool used as a short-term measure to correct supply imbalances. Fischer Boel has repeatedly complained that the EU wine industry still depends too much on distillation to rid itself of unwanted «wine lakes» at taxpayers’ expense, saying fundamental reform is needed to make EU wines more competitive.