With Italian wine exports severely affected by the coronavirus lockdown restrictions, winemakers want to send their unsold stock to be turned into hand sanitiser.
It may seem abhorrent to wine lovers, but with Italy’s overall wine exports down by 4% this year, and with many wine producers’ stock languishing in their cellars, many are looking for ways to shift the excess stock. With the grape harvest just around the corner, producers need to make room for this year’s vintage.
In June, the Italian government adopted a decree allowing some 70 million bottles of surplus wine stocks to be turned into hand sanitiser gel, something winemakers are reluctant to do as it is usually the better wines that sit in the cellar.
"With almost four out of 10 producers in difficulty after the [coronavirus] crisis, we must swiftly intervene to support exports, reduce costs and cumbersome administration," said Ettore Prandini, chairman of Italy's agricultural trade union Coldiretti.
Wine is Italy's main agricultural earner in the US, with exports worth 1.5 billion euros ($1.8 billion) annually. In 2019, Italy exported a total 6.4 billion euros worth of wine overall, primarily to the US, UK and Germany.
In Europe, people turned to wine during the lockdown, with sales booming in many countries. In fact, Italian exports to other European countries were less affected by the shutdown of bars and restaurants than they were in China.
Exports to Germany, traditionally Italy’s biggest export market for wine, are only down by 1%, France down by 14%, UK 12%, while exports to the US remain stable, also with just a 1% dip in volume.
However the biggest growing market for Italian wines, China, saw a huge slip in Italian wine imports, mostly because, a tightening of consumer spending saw many Chinese cut back on wine. Wine is seen as a luxury item in China, whereas in continental Europe, it’s as natural to have at the dinner table as water.
Despite being the country in which the novel coronavirus developed, the country has largely returned to normal, while other countries around the world are still struggling to contain the virus.
Vinitaly has launched a roadshow across China to revive consumer interest in Italian wines ahead of their first Wine To Asia wine fair in Shenzhen this November.