Why France Must Destroy 80 Million Gallons Of Wine

A surplus has led to some extreme measures—including turning wine into hand sanitizer.

Quality French wine is expensive, and that's if you want to drink it—who knew it would be more expensive to destroy it? As a result of a surplus of wine and a number of economic factors, France now must destroy the excess inventory, and it will cost about $216 million to do it, The Washington Post reports.

It's not as simple as dumping it down the drain. To destroy the wine, producers will have to distill it down to pure alcohol to be used for products like perfume, cleaning supplies, or even hand sanitizer.

This massive destruction of approximately 80 million gallons of wine is due in part to wine being more expensive to produce during a time of reduced demand. Yes, in what is arguably the wine capital of the world, fewer and fewer people are drinking the stuff. The Washington Post already reported on this decline at the beginning of 2023, noting that the share of regular wine drinkers in France has fallen from 50% in the 1980s to less than 20% now. And historically, wine consumption was at a peak of 136 liters per person per year in 1926 but has since dropped to 40 liters.

One factor impacting wine consumption is that the beverage industry has inundated consumers with new and various options. From seltzers to ready-to-drink canned cocktails, wine just isn't top of mind for the same share of drinkers anymore. In fact, at the end of 2022, The Guardian reported France was leading the way in alcohol-free drinking, with many startups developing alcohol-free spirits, wines, cocktails, and beers.

Although the alcohol-free route does present some opportunities for winemakers, other constraints have also led to this government-funded destruction of wine. Production costs for wine have increased, for one thing. Inflation has made everyone's wallets a bit smaller. And the ripple effects of the pandemic are still being felt, as bars, restaurants, and wineries were of course forced to close during lockdowns and many never recovered.

On top of all that, the war in Ukraine also disrupted shipments of products used in winemaking, such as fertilizer and bottles. And this is all before we even discuss the ever-present issue of climate change, which has forced growers to adapt to new harvest schedules and deal with more extreme weather conditions than previous seasons.

All of these challenges have led to the current dilemma of surplus wine, but experts in the industry do say that France has been struggling with the balance of wine supply and demand for decades. Elizabeth Carter, a professor of political science at the University of New Hampshire who has studied the French wine market, told The Washington Post she is not surprised by the recent government intervention. Carter said the nation has struggled with overproduction since the 19th century, and has even regulated how many vines producers can grow and how far apart they can be in order to combat the issue.

Now, I'm not sure what I could personally do in terms of alleviating production costs or helping winemakers turn a profit. But what I can do is hold out my empty glass and tell the French they shouldn't let a perfectly good Bordeaux go to waste. Send it to the Americans. Free me from this seltzer prison.