New Zealand wine exports jumped by almost 20% last year, driven by gains in key markets led by neighbouring rival Australia.

Wine exports for 2008 rose by 19% year-on-year, reaching a value of NZ$904m (US$453.9m), New Zealand Winegrowers said today (3 February).

The trade organisation said it expects exports this year should shrug off the economic downturn, with exports predicted to break the NZ$1bn barrier, a year earlier than originally planned.

Philip Gregan, CEO of New Zealand Winegrowers, said: "Growth in the past year has been powered by strong sales in key markets, led by Australia, and increased availability of wines from vintage 2008. In addition, in recent months we have also seen some benefit from the lower value of the New Zealand dollar against the US dollar."

New Zealand's success and outlook contrasts with that of several rival wine nations, notably Australia and France.

Earlier this year, Australia reported exports down 18% in 2008 to A$2.46bn (US$1.56bn), the country's first fall in 15 years.

Late last year, France's wine and spirits export body, FEVS, told just-drinks that it has seen "extreme downward pressures" on prices, following double-digit falls in exports by value during October and November.

New Zealand's Gregan said today that the global economic downturn has so far had "minimal" impact, but warned of "increased uncertainty" in the market for the year ahead.