Global wine sales boom despite crisis: industry

Drinkers worldwide are spending half a trillion dollars a year on wine and spirits, boosting exports from France, Italy, Argentina and even small producers like Brazil, executives at a major industry fair said this week.

Experts at the Vinexpo trade fair in Bordeaux, the heart of the French wine trade, said Italy had overtaken France in the volume of wine exports and flagged Argentina as a future top contender in the global market.

"A hundred and eighty billion US dollars - it's an enormous number - was spent by consumers in 2009 on wine and 280 billion US dollars on spirits," said Robert Beynat, chief executive of Vinexpo.

He said this made it a "product of great consumption worth three times the aeronautics industry."

The figure, equivalent to a total of 320 billion euros, appears to eclipse the tens of billions in sales recorded that year by major aircraft makers.

"The market continues to evolve positively despite the crisis," Beynat added.

While France remains the leading exporter in value at eight billion euros in 2010, the Italians have passed them in volume last year.

Italy pulled in four billion euros and saw 14 percent annual growth in 2010, said Umberto Vattani, president of the Italian foreign trade commission.

"We have 4,000 years of winemaking, and a diversity of climates, soils and 350 grape varieties. Consumers enjoy the diversity," said Vattani.

Brazil, a relative newcomer, is also on the rise, as its southern neighbour Argentina moves up from "New World" status to a top world player, winemakers said.

Brazil's bottled exports grew 144 percent over the first quarter of this year compared to the same period in 2010, according to the Brazilian Wine Institute. Britain was its top customer.

"Now it's time to build the Brazilian wine brand," said Andreia Gentilini Milan, export manager for the Wines of Brazil. "That's our goal, to see our wine in the best restaurants and best wine stores."

"We have to stop talking about wines from the New World. They are no longer part of the New World - Argentina, Chile, South Africa," said Beynat.

"After 30 years, one isn't new anymore. They are part of the Old World," he added.

"What is important is that a New World is being born - mainly China and India."

The London-based International Wine and Spirit Research group (IWSR) ranks China as the world's seventh largest grape-based wine producer, and domestic production is increasing with government support for the new vineyards.

In India, consumption increased by 170 percent from 2004 to 2010, and total surface area under vines doubled between 2007 and 2010, with predicted expansion of another 56 percent by 2014, according to IWSR.

IWSR and merchants at Vinexpo said the United States is still the most lucrative retail market for wine, and will soon bypass Britain in volume.

"The Americans are going to be the biggest consumers in volume by 2013-2014," predicted Beynat. "It would be a fundamental error to concentrate on China. The future is unquestionably the United States."

"China is growing quickly but it will take time to gain stability and tomorrow it could stop," cautioned David Bolzan, managing director of Bordeaux merchant Cordier Mestrezat.

Vinexpo gathers wine and spirits suppliers from 47 countries with 2,400 stands, and nearly 50,000 trade visitors expected. It runs to June 23.

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