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Wine Exports Flowing From Shores of U.S. : Drop in Dollar Making Vintages More Attractive

December 22, 1987|Associated Press

WASHINGTON — Americans are not only drinking more wine these days compared to the harder stuff, they are having some success in persuading other countries to do the same.

U.S. exports of wine are booming, helped by the drop in the value of the dollar and some government support, according to the latest reports from the Department of Agriculture.

There were exports worth $43 million in the first nine months of this year, compared to $35.3 million for the whole of 1986 and $27.8 million in 1985.

Leslie Berger of USDA's horticulture and tropical products division said that in the first nine months of 1987, U.S. wine sales to Taiwan totaled $1.7 million. For the same period last year, sales amounted to only $142,000, she said.

Taiwan has a big surplus in trade with this country and has been under heavy pressure to buy more American goods.

Lower Taxes in Japan

Berger said U.S. wine has an advantage in Taiwan since the island, unlike many other areas in Asia, was never colonized or even much frequented by Europeans so there is no tradition favoring European wines. Only a few Taiwanese drink wine, but the number is growing as prosperity increases, she said in a telephone interview last week.

In Japan, sales of U.S. still wines doubled to $8 million from $4 million in the same nine-month period. She said bigger U.S. exports are expected to Japan because under a new tax system that is due to go into effect on Jan. 1, Japan has promised that taxes on foreign beverages will no longer be heavier than on local products.

But the Japanese may set some limits because of additives in U.S. wines.

American ways of making wine also cause some trouble with the European Economic Community.

European experts may object to fumaric acid, which is otherwise used in making plastics, and to the process of ion exchange, which helps prevent cloudiness. One American expert said both fumaric acid and ion exchange are harmless to the wine-drinker, and fumaric acid is little used.

"Sometimes we just call these objections trade barriers," said George Cook, extension enologist of the University of California, Davis.

Davis is one of the most important centers of American enology, the science of wine-making.

The 12 countries of the EEC include France, West Germany, Italy, Luxembourg, Portugal, Spain and Greece--all wine producers. The area had huge surplus stocks. By the end of the year, the governments are expected to have on hand 130 million gallons of alcohol distilled from what Europeans call their "wine lake," Berger said.

Big in Britain

Another American practice the Europeans dislike is naming American wines for those traditionally made on their continent. The community bans imports of any labeled as champagne, burgundy or other well-known European names.

Despite the problems, U.S. wines also sell in Europe and especially in Britain, where little is grown locally.

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