US wine exports hit record $1.4 bn in 2012

US wine exports uncorked a record year in 2012, bringing in $1.43 billion in revenues as demand grew in Germany, Sweden, Japan and China, the Wine Institute said Thursday.

Wine exports -- 90 percent from California -- rose by 2.6 percent, the third year in a row of increases, said the San Francisco-based institute, which represents the California wine industry.

Volume shipments reached 424.6 million liters, or 112.2 million cases, last year, a slight slowdown from 2011 shipments of 425.5 million liters (47.3 million cases).

"California wine exports continue to increase because of our quality, diversity and value, despite a highly competitive global market, significant trade barriers and a still recovering economy," Robert Koch, the institute's president and chief executive, said in a statement.

"We've worked to create more opportunities to export our wines by supporting our government in opening markets with free-trade agreements and other negotiations," Koch said.

The 27-country European Union was the top market for California wines, with sales rising 1.7 percent to $485 million, the San Francisco-based Wine Institute said.

Exports to Germany were up 6 percent from 2011, and 14 percent to Sweden, where sales were mostly red wine.

In Britain, California wine exports grew by 2.8 percent in value while France, Italy, Spain, Australia, Chile and South Africa all lost ground, said John McLaren, the institute's director for the United Kingdom.

"With an uncertain economy, and against a background of governmental anti-alcohol abuse measures, the UK wine trade has suffered some setbacks, but California has done well to preserve its market share and take advantage of some new opportunities in the independent retail and restaurant sectors," McLaren said.

Exports to Canada rose 14 percent to $434 million, while Hong Kong was the third-largest export market by value, at $115 million.

Sales in China, a top-priority growth market for US vintners, surged 18 percent to $74 million.

Exports to Japan rose 6 percent to $111 million, and included a growing amount of up bulk wine as major Japanese importers bottle them in Japan, reducing import duties, as well as more premium-priced wines, the institute said.

South Korea's export market value grew a hefty 26 percent, to $16 million, following the US-South Korea free-trade pact that took effect in March 2012.