In spite of a strengthening of the Rand against most major currencies, South African bottled wine exports for the year were expected to increase by at least 20% on last year's figure and almost double the 93 million-litre volumes of 2000.

Wines of South Africa CEO, Su Birch was optimistic that they might even top the 200 million-litre mark by year-end.

Birch was particularly upbeat about the UK market today commenting that although intensely competitive, it remained South Africa's largest wine destination, with sales up 33% for the first 10 months of this year, compared to the same period last year.

"The current volatility of the Rand does not detract from the intrinsic value South African wines present, compared with those of other New World producers," she said.

She cautioned local producers against raising their prices too high, too soon as the UK market was not yet ready for Cape wines fighting in the £20 to £40 price range.

"We have to earn our colours in the top quality stratum before taking that leap. While we have already developed a solid reputation for delivering value across a range of price points, the accent," she said.

In Holland, where South Africa has 14% share of the market, bottled sales were up 22% during the same period and have increased by 20% a year over the past four years.

German figures for the first 10 months were also promising, with sales up 17% on the same period last year.