While beer may be the beverage most associated with Belgium, people there are acquiring a taste for California wines, thanks to efforts by the Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS) and the Wine Institute.

On March 7, FAS and the Wine Institute organized a wine tasting at the U.S. Ambassador’s residence in Brussels. In addition to showcasing 200 California wines, the event featured high-end beef and salmon hors d’oeuvres sponsored by the U.S. Meat Export Federation and the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute.

More than 300 importers, distributors, retailers and media representatives attended, tasting and discussing the wines each exhibitor had to offer. The event resulted in projected 12-month wine sales of nearly $480,000.

Walter Schug, owner of Schug Winery in Sonoma, Calif., was thrilled to have the opportunity to showcase his wines. “As a winemaker for other California wineries since the 1970s and now an owner myself, I must say that the Wine Institute and its foreign staff have done an outstanding job introducing the wines of California and the U.S. to the world.”

The Wine Institute, the U.S. Meat Export Federation and the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute are all participants in FAS’ Market Access Program (MAP). MAP helps U.S. producers, exporters, and trade organizations by providing assistance with overseas marketing and promotional activities. The Wine Institute represents and helps to promote more than 1,000 California wineries and affiliated businesses.

“U.S. wine is becoming very popular in Belgium,” said Paul Molleman, European director for the Wine Institute’s California Wine Export Program.

“You will always have people who believe that true Bordeaux only comes from France, but the market in Belgium is growing for U.S. wines, especially with 25-50 year olds who are looking to try new things,” said Molleman.

Schug, too, has seen a shift in acceptance toward California wines.

“It is understandable that the older generation of Europeans is accustomed to European wines,” said Schug. “However, travel and taste has brought California wines respect and the attention of the younger generation in Europe.”

According to Schug, his winery currently exports 18 percent of production. He offered one piece of advice to other U.S. wine representatives who are interested in exporting: “Join us who have paved the way!”

Partnerships like the one between FAS and the Wine Institute have contributed to a worldwide surge in popularity for the American brand of agriculture. U.S. food and agricultural exports reached a record $137.4 billion in fiscal year 2011 and supported 1.15 million jobs here at home. The U.S. agricultural trade surplus stands at a record $42.7 billion.