U.S. wine exports rise to all-time high

U.S. wine exports jumped 22 percent last year to a record $1.39 billion as California vintners found new customers for their wines overseas, the industry's largest trade group reported Thursday.

Volume shipments rose 5.8 percent to 50.6 million cases, according to the San Francisco-based Wine Institute.

The increase partly reflects the strengthening of foreign currencies against the dollar, but also follows a quarter-century of efforts to market U.S. wines abroad.

"We're really seeing that bear fruit now," said Linsey Gallagher, the institute's director of international marketing.

The nation's wine exports have shown significant growth over the past 17 years. In 1994, revenues amounted to $196 million. By 2011, they had grown to $541 million.

The U.S. now ranks fourth for wine production behind France, Italy and Spain.

Exports account for about 20 percent of U.S. wine sales, Gallagher said. And 90 percent of the exported wine is produced in California.

"The quality, diversity and value of California wines have propelled us to another record year for wine exports," Bobby Koch, president and CEO of the San Francisco-based trade group, said in a statement. "Our success in removing trade barriers and opening new markets as well as significant marketing investments by our wineries will allow us to reach our goal of $2 billion in exports by 2020."

A third of U.S. wine exports by value were shipped to the 27-member countries of the European Union, which purchased $478 million of U.S. wine. Sales revenue rose 10 percent from 2010 and volume shipments increased 1.4 percent to nearly 28 million cases.

Other top markets were: Canada, $379 million, up 23 percent; Hong Kong, $163 million, up 39 percent; Japan, $105 million, up 39 percent; and China, $62 million, up 42 percent.

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