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From fruity little number to healthy pill

You might have thought that the supposed health benefits of wine were most pleasurably obtained from a glass savoured over a fine meal. French viticulturists have other ideas, however.

In an attempt to profit from studies suggesting wine molecules may help to ward off cancer and heart disease, producers are transforming the fruit of their vines into pills, tonics and dietary supplements.

With vineyard revenues falling as alcohol consumption declines in France, an attempt is under way to tap into the teetotal market by creating health foods from parts of the grape that used to be discarded.

"It's essential for us," said David Ageron, business manager at Vitimed, a unit of l'Union des Distilleries de la Mediterranee (UDM), one of France's biggest wineries.

His trade has traditionally involved transforming wine residue into state-subsidised industrial alcohol.

But with the EU ordering an end to the subsidies over the next 24 months, producers are developing medicines and supplements based on grape seed or grape skin extracts.

Didier Hauret is trying to sell his wares to teetotallers.

At Le Clos du Grand Riou, his vineyard in Loire Valley, west France, he makes an organic red wine but has now set up a business that produces Dionysox, a drink made from the skins and other residue of his grapes, which he sells as a dietary supplement.

He is not alone. In southwest France Olivier Godin has set up Vino-Cure, which sells cosmetics and dietary supplements.

"It's for people who don't drink wine but want to stay young and healthy," he said.