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California wine exports heading toward a record year

December 13, 2011 |  6:30 am

Zinfadelgrapesnapareuterslisabaertlein

 California's international wine exports are booming and on pace to set a record in 2011.

According to the Wine Institute, a San Francisco trade group, the value of exports shipped in the first 10 months of the year already equal last year's record of $1.14 billion. This year's exports are 23% greater than their value at the same time last year, said Linsey Gallagher, the Wine Institute's director of international marketing.

The strong push in 2011 is part of a developing trend.

"California wines for the last couple of years have come into their own, offering quality, diversity and value, Gallagher said.

This year's surge is benefiting from a weak dollar, which adds to the value of California vintages, she said. A bottle that might have cost the equivalent of $10 a few years ago now sells for $7 to $8.

While the bulk California wine bottles go to Europe, the growth in sales to China have been increasing at a rapid pace. Exports to China, which account for about 5% of the total, increased 35% compared with the same 10-month period in 2010, the Wine Institute reported.

California's full-bodied red wines are particularly popular in China, Gallagher said, because their "fruit-forward, bold" taste matches well with often spicy Chinese cuisine.

U.S. wine sales in China are benefiting from a strong economy and a growing middle class that is buying more luxury items, such as automobiles and wine, she said. At the same time, European consumption of California wines remains strong despite the continuing economic crisis.

Related:

Robert Lawrence Balzer dies at 99: LA Times wine writer 

Eat like a Mediterranean but how? 

Alice Waters brings Chez Panisse experience to Beijing

-- Marc Lifsher

Photo: Zinfandel grapes growing in the Napa Valley at October harvest. Credit: Lisa Baertlein / Reuters

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