- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 21, 2013

Boosted by soaring double-digit sales increases in China and other Asian markets, U.S. wine exports hit a record 1.4 billion liters in 2012, up 2.6 percent from 2011 and the third straight annual increase, the San Francisco-based Wine Institute said Thursday.

Europe remained the top export market, followed by Canada and Hong Kong. Wine exports to China last year were up 18 percent to $74 million, while sales were also up 27 percent in South Korea and 22 percent in Vietnam.

U.S. wine exports — 90 percent of which originate from California — have managed to do well despite the recent global downturn due to rising demand, improved marketing and trade agreements that have opened new markets. Other wine-producing countries, including South Africa and France, also have reported record exports in recent weeks.

“It’s variety-driven, demand-driven and price-driven,” said Nat DiBuduo, president and CEO of the Allied Grape Growers Association, a California-based marketing cooperative. “If they figure they can import wine in another country lower than the cost to make it, they will, and some wine venders will do that.”

New markets are also increasing the reach of American wines.

“We’ve seen a big demand,” David Gates, vice president of vineyard operations at Ridge Vineyards in Cupertino, Calif., told The Associated Press. “And as demand has picked up, we pushed a little harder into the more developing markets, the biggest one being China.”

Wine consumption in 2011 was up 4 percent globally, according to the institute, and even more in the United States. Americans consumed 8 million more bottles in 2012 than in 2011, according to the Wine Market Council.

“Wine tends to be recession-proof,” said Gladys Horiuchi, a spokeswoman for the Wine Institute. “Wine consumption is slightly declining in Europe, and consumption is growing in the U.S. I think it’s gaining traction, and it’s becoming more of a day-to-day lifestyle.”

Foreign drinkers are proving increasingly receptive to American wines, U.S. vintners say.

“Our global campaign supporting our California wine exports communicates California as an aspirational place,” said Linsey Gallagher, international marketing director at the Wine Institute. “All of our marketing activities in 25 countries convey these messages to consumers and trade around the world.”