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US wine exports break $1bn

US wine exports exceeded $1bn in 2008, helped by huge increases in shipments to Hong Kong and China.

Nearly 55m cases of wine – 90% of it from California – were shipped last year, up 8% on 2007. By value, exports rose 6% to $1.01bn (£782,877,047,915) according to US Department of Commerce figures.

Exports to the European Union, up 2% by value and 9% by volume, accounted for more than half of export volumes, but the biggest growth came in Asia.

Shipments to Hong Kong surged 244% by value and 166% by volume, buoyed by the removal of excise duty; and exports to China were up 34% by value and 79% by volume.

The overall rise means that US wine exports have increased more than five-fold by value over the past 15 years, but the Wine Institute of California is aiming to continue the momentum.

The organisation has pledged to collaborate with the US government in an effort to lower restrictive trade barriers around the world, particularly in the implementation of the 2006 EU-US Wine Trade Agreement.

But some European wine producers are angry that the US is targeting what it labels as ‘protectionism’ abroad, when it still allows domestic wineries to use names such as Champagne, Chablis, Burgundy and Port on their labels.

John McLaren, the Wine Institute’s UK director, pointed out that use of the names for established brands was still permitted under the latest agreement.

‘I am a European and it doesn’t sit well with me, but when you go into a negotiation, you don’t say you’re just going to cave in on everything,’ he said, adding that use of the names would likely abate over time.

‘When I’m in California, I don’t see names like Chablis on bottles very often,’ he said.

The CIVC, Champagne’s generic representative body, likewise campaigns against misuse of the name Champagne, and has employed the strapline ‘Masquerading as Champagne might be legal but it isn’t fair’.

‘It’s for them to realise it’s in their own interest to stop using the name Champagne, but it’s a very long and difficult process,’ said director Jean-Luc Barbier.

Written by Richard Woodard

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