U.S. wineries joined the billion dollar club as their wine exports surpassed that milestone for the first time.

That's also a 6 percent increase in revenue and 8 percent increase in volume from 2007, according to the San Francisco-based Wine Institute.

Of the 130 million gallons—or 55 million cases—shipped abroad, more than 90 percent came from California.

“Wine exports have increased steadily during the past 15 years, increasing more than five-fold from $196 million in 1994, institute President and chief executive officer Bobby Koch said in a news release.

Wine is California's second leading export behind computers and electronics.

Nearly half of U.S. wine exports are shipped to the European Union, accounting for $486 million, according to the Wine Institute.

Volume shipments to the European Union increased 9 percent in 2008 compared with 2007, and sales by value grew at a lower rate of 2 percent. That's due to the producers exporting bulk wine for bottling overseas to save the costs of shipping packaging. 

The finished wines are then shipped to their final destinations in neighboring countries.

After the EU, leading markets were: Canada, $260 million; Japan, $61 million; Hong Kong, 26 million; and Mexico, $23 million. 

To subscribe to the print version of The Grower, click here.