French wine growers are calling for millions of litres of wine to be turned into methylated spirits or cooking brandy, blaming falling sales and a declining market share abroad for the unsold stock.

A report by The Times newspaper claims that French growers want Paris and Brussels to purchase unsold stocks in a 1.14bn (US$159bn) rescue package, where almost 10% of France's total wine production would end up as the type to be poured over Christmas puddings or as industrial alcohol.

Representatives were yesterday meeting with Jean Glavany, the French agriculture minister asking him to put Fr500m of taxpayers' money into the scheme. According to The Times newspaper European taxpayers would then be expected to meet the remaining Fr640m that it would cost to buy 500m hectolitres of unsold wine.

The European Union is reluctant to approve the plan after subsidising the purchase of 80m litres of unsold wine last year. However, Brussels is considering a proposal whereby farmers are paid to pull up 60,000 hectares of vines, leaving the fields empty.

Wine production in France has increased from 55m hectolitres in 1997 to 59m hectolitres last year. But falling sales has resulted in almost 1.5bn litres of wine being stocked in cooperative cellars and it is expected that millions more will be added after this year's harvest.