US wine exports set new record high

US wine exports, 90% of which come from California, reached $1.61 billion in 2015 – a 7.6% increase on 2014 with volumes up 4.1% to 461 million litres.


Vineyards in Napa

Of the top 10 export markets for California wines, the European Union’s 28-member countries were the largest, accounting for $622 million and nearly 40% of total US wine exports in 2015, according to figures released by the Wine Institute.

“Despite a strong US dollar and fierce competition from Old and New World wine countries, nearly all export markets in Continental Europe showed an increase”, said Paul Molleman, Wine Institute trade director for continental Europe. “It is especially encouraging to see that our educational and promotional efforts in Germany, our largest market on the continent, are paying off with an increase of 32% in revenues.”

The UK market accounted for 25% of all US wine exports by volume. With the value of US wine exports to the UK rising by 28% last year, value growth is now outstripping volume growth in this market as efforts to premiumise the category in the UK paying off.

“The wine trade here [in the UK] has shifted emphasis to restaurants and casual dining, and a burgeoning independent retail sector, leading to increased interest in premium wines from the Golden State”, said Wine Institute UK trade director John McLaren. “California is better placed here than it has ever been before, and we expect further growth in 2016 and beyond”.

In terms of value, Europe was followed by Canada at $461 million; Hong Kong, $97 million; Japan, $96 million; China, $56 million; Nigeria, $29 million; Mexico, $26 million; South Korea, $23 million; Switzerland, $21 million; and Singapore, $15 million.

In Canada, sales of US wines surpassed those of wines from France and Italy for the first time to claim the largest wine import share.

Looking to Asia Japan saw imports of US wine decrease by 40.5% by volume due to a “slowdown at the ports along the US west coast” which prevented Japanese importers from promoting US wines.

“After April 2015, the port issue was resolved and supply was back in line with growing demand,” said Ken-ichi Hori, Wine Institute japan trade director. “Once the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade agreement goes into force, the import duty on US wines will be completely abolished in eight years which will help the entire California category grow in Japan. This is critical for the California wine industry, since our competitors, Chile and Australia, already have free trade agreements with Japan, and benefit from a duty advantage over California wines.”

In China the picture is harder to quantify due to a lack of “reliable country-wide sales data”.

“The 2015 numbers based on import/export data for China don’t tell the whole story on California wine performance, and, in fact, are misleading”, said Christopher Beros, Wine Institute trade director for China.

“Looking at consumption of California wines in the premium and super premium categories, the price range for most California wines, sales were up last year. The export decline was due to a drop in less expensive wines being imported following excessive importation in 2013-2014. Sales of higher-priced wines are quite healthy, while even lower-priced wines are selling through as depletions continue.”

Hong Kong meanwhile recorded a 41% increase by value in US exports, with much of that volume ultimately shipped to China.

“The market for California wines in China remains healthy and more consumer driven than in years past when gifting and group purchasing were significant drivers of sales”, added Beros.

The California Wine Institute credited much of its success in 2015 to its export program, which has seen the organisation launch a consumer website,, in eight languages, social media campaigns in 16 countries, an educational California Wines PowerPoint tool, educational videos online, and strengthen its partnership with Visit California.

“California wine exports have increased 91% by value in the last decade and we’re seeing a “premiumization” trend with dollar sales outpacing volume growth”, said Linsey Gallagher, Wine Institute vice president of international marketing. “This growth is occurring despite heavily-subsidized foreign competitors, high tariffs and strong dollar.”

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