France’s wine glut turned into biofuel

It was the best of times for French drivers; it was the worst of times for French oenophiles. Beset by fierce international competition and flattened domestic sales, France’s vintners this year will distill about 133 million bottles’ worth of surplus wine into ethanol, which will be added to gasoline — part of an overall European effort to increase use of biofuels. “If my grandfather could taste what I’m turning into alcohol, he’d turn over in his grave,” said winemaker Olivier Gibelin. But faced with a massive oversupply that could only be sold at rock-bottom prices, if at all, Gibelin and other French winemakers feel they have little choice. France hopes this diversification into ethanol production will help cash-pinched vintners stay in business without ripping up fields of grapes. Since France exports gasoline to the U.S., American motorists may well be gassing up with French biofuel — excuse us, freedom fuel — at some point in 2006.