US wine exports reach record levels

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — U.S. wine exports hit record levels in 2011, helped by soaring demand from Asia and a weak dollar that made American wines more affordable.

Shipments for the first 11 months of 2011 reached $1.23 billion, according to the California Wine Institute. That's up 23 percent from the same period in 2010, and it's higher than the $1.1 billion in exports tallied for all of 2010, even though December 2011 results have yet to be reported.

Full-year 2011 statistics will be released later this year. The institute now projects foreign shipments to total at least $1.3 billion for the 12-month period.

That's good news for California, whose grape growers, wineries and exporters account for nine of every 10 bottles of U.S. wine sold overseas.

"It's a great global story for California wine exports," said Linsey Gallagher, the San Francisco institute's director of international marketing.


California exports about a fifth of its wine production, a figure that Golden State vintners are looking to increase, Gallagher said.

In recent years, California wineries have put a "greater strategic focus on exports," Gallagher said. "In the past, we were accused of only focusing on exports when we couldn't sell everything at home."

Although the countries of the European Union continued to rank first in consumption of California wine, exports to the 27-country bloc grew by only 10.1 percent to $447.6 million in the first 11 months of 2011 compared with the same period a year earlier. Exports to second-ranking Canada increased by 24.4 percent to $347.1 million.

But sales to third-place Hong Kong jumped by 48.4 percent to $145.9 million, fourth-place Japan by 42.3 percent to $96.8 million and fifth-place China by 38.3 percent to $55 million.

California is the fourth-biggest wine producer in the world but accounts for just 4 percent of the world wine export market, a situation that provides Golden State wineries with ample room for expansion as they compete with more established growers in France, Italy and Spain.

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