Blaming last year's bumper crop, French winemakers say they need to boil down hundreds of millions of bottles of top quality wine into industrial-use alcohol in order to restore the balance of supply and demand.

The proposal, from the Confederation of French Wine Co-operatives, calls for permission to boil down 267 million bottles of wine for "crisis distillation."

Vintners boiled down almost the same amount of wine in 2002, but it was lower quality table wine. This proposal involves wines that carry the country's Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée (AOC) – the highest grade for French wine.

They need approval from French and European Union officials before the distillation can go ahead.

French wine exports dropped in 2004 because of competition from California and other New World wines.

If the proposal is approved, the AOC winemakers would receive an EU-fixed price for each bottle sold to the distiller.

The French government's wine office, Onivins, says AOC producers in France have never before requested a "crisis distillation."

With an average per-person consumption of 50 litres of wine per year, France is the world's leading wine consumer. Canadians drink an average of 12.8 litres per year, according to 2003 figures from Statistics Canada.