U.S. wine exports, about 95 percent from California, edged up two percent to $548 million in 1999, representing a 300 percent increase from a decade ago in 1990. By volume, wine exports posted a gain of five percent over the previous year to 75.4 million gallons.

"Though not as dramatic a gain as 1998's 26 percent jump in revenues, U.S. wine exports in 1999 still increased to a record high," says Joseph Rollo, Wine Institute International Director. "Major markets in Canada and western Europe continue to show strong demand for California wines because of their track record for consistently high quality."

Over 125 California wineries export successfully to 165 markets worldwide, and the potential exists for further growth. The U.S. is the fourth leading wine producer in the world and holds a four percent share of the world export market. Protectionist measures, such as huge tariffs, distribution restrictions and foreign wine production subsidies, limit global access to California wine. However, California vintners have made successful inroads in opening and expanding world markets.

"Great opportunities exist for California wine," says Wine Institute President and CEO John De Luca. "We are currently advocating passage of permanent normal trade relations with China because the recently negotiated China/World Trade Organization agricultural package for wine will introduce major reform, greater market access, and reduced tariffs -- from 65 percent to 20 percent by 2004."

The United Kingdom remained the largest export market with $132 million in sales, representing nearly a quarter of the value shipped abroad. Competition was fierce in the United Kingdom as table wine consumption was flat there last year, resulting in foreign competitors slashing prices and eroding U.S. market share. Canada accounted for $98 million, up seven percent over the previous year. Japan slipped to third with $80 million. A wine boom in Japan has continued, but importers were still going through 1998's heavy inventory build-up, with business picking up the latter part of 1999.

"California winery participation in several high-profile marketing events helped to boost our exports in Canada," said Rick Slomka, Wine Institute's Canadian Director. "Ongoing strong support from the restaurant trade, along with some recovery from the Canadian dollar, also contributed to the growth."

Other markets with export increases include: the Netherlands, a distribution center for western Europe, with exports shooting up 65 percent to $78 million; Switzerland, up nine percent to $25 million; and Denmark, with exports up 13 percent to $12 million.

"California's positive image is still what European consumers use to buy wine," says Paul Molleman, the Institute's European Marketing Director. "California's wine image continues to be young, dynamic, exciting, daring and very high quality."

Molleman explained that Germany is the largest market for imported wine in the world, with both large and small California wineries showing great growth. In other countries, there are strong increases in all segments, especially in the large chain stores in Holland and Belgium.

Importers worldwide continued to buy packaged California wine brands, which edged up one percent in sales to $426 million, while bulk table wine exports declined six percent to $43 million.

The total $548 million in wine exports represents a consecutive increase every year since wine exports of $35 million in 1986, a year after the U.S. Congress passed the Wine Equity and Expansion Act in recognition of both the significant trade barriers faced by U.S. wine producers in foreign markets throughout the world, and the confidence that American wines could contribute to the overall growth of U.S. wine exports. Since 1985, the Wine Institute has created and managed the California Wine Export Program, with promotional programs in 17 countries.