US wine exports surged to US$794m last year – a massive jump on 2003 and the largest yearly increase ever.

In total, exports went up 28% in value and 29% in volume. More than 60% of exports go to the EU, despite ‘significant trade barriers,’ Wine Insitutute president Robert Koch said, adding that he hoped the next round of World Trade Organisation talks would lower some barriers.

The UK is the top market for California wine (which accounts for 90% of US exports). Other leading markets are Canada, Netherlands, Japan, Germany, Mexico, Switzerland, Denmark, Ireland and Belgium.

‘California wine had another fantastic year in the UK, with growth far beyond any of our competitors,’ John McLaren, Wine Institute United Kingdom director said. ‘Nearly one in every seven bottles of wine consumed in the UK now comes from the Golden State.’

Despite the strength of the export market, California wine is still battling a strong perception amongst the UK wine press that California is under-represented in the mid- and top range.The top-selling US wines in the UK are bulk wines: Blossom Hill, Gallo, Fetzer, Ironstone and Corbett Canyon.

With this in mind, the industry is working to increase its presence in the mid-range price category in the UK.

‘We’re looking to strengthen our position in the middle, aspirational area, the £5-8 bracket,’ McLaren told decanter.com. ‘In that range wines begin to have more individual characters.’

The Wine Institute in London will be releasing its second tranche of what it calls ‘benchmark wines’ at the London International Wine and Spirits Fair in May.

‘These are exemplary wines,’ McLaren said. ‘They are typical of California and show what the industry is capable of doing.’

The Institute will show 16-20 wines priced between £5 and £10, that are available in commercial quantities, chosen by an independent panel of experts tasting blind.

‘We are criticised for not producing quality at popular price points,’ McLaren said. ‘Hopefully this will go some way to changing perceptions of California wine.’

Written by Adam Lechmere