US wine exports rose by 6% in value last year to pass the $1bn mark for the first time, new figures show.

Wine exports from the US rose to just over $1bn in 2008, with volumes up 8% at 55m cases, the California Wine Institute said this week. California accounts for 90% of US wine exports.

Exports by value to the EU, which drinks nearly half of all US wine exports, rose by 2% for the year, while volumes rose by 9%.

"While we are also starting to see the effects of the financial crisis on the European wine markets, California has performed well in Europe in 2008," said Wine Institute trade director for Europe Paul Molleman.

Wine sales have slowed considerably in the key UK market in recent months, with volume growth across the market close to flat, figures compiled by the UK Wine & Spirit Trade Association show. Calfifornia-based wine firms Gallo and Constellation Brands have both announced plans to cut up to 50 jobs in the UK.

Wine Institute trade director for the UK, John McLaren, remained upbeat this week. "In tough trading conditions, California continued to build market share in the United Kingdom," he said. 

In other European markets, the Institute said that US wine sales were "rebounding" in Germany, while the country has attained a 14% share of Poland's emerging wine market.

The Institute is currently working with US government officials to help implement a wine trade agreement between the US and 27 EU member states, which may alleviate some of the economic pressure by reducing tariffs.

After the EU, the next biggest markets for US wine in 2008 were: Canada $260m, Japan $61m, Hong Kong $26m; Mexico $23m.