French wine and spirits exports hit new record in 2017

* U.S. and Chinese demand are main drivers

* Sales up despite stronger euro exchange rate

PARIS, Feb 14 (Reuters) - French wine and spirits exports rose to a new record in 2017 due to strong sales to the United States and China, despite a stronger euro exchange rate, the Federation of French Wines and Spirit Exporters (FEVS) said on Wednesday.

Wines and spirits rank second in France for exports, behind aerospace and ahead of perfumes and cosmetics.

“All French regions benefited from this export windfall,” said Antoine Leccia, FEVS’s new president, who spoke to Reuters by telephone.

Export sales reached 12.91 billion euros ($15.94 billion), up 8.5 percent on 2016, the federation said in a statement.

Wine sales also rose 6 percent in volume, recording their first increase in five years.

Exports were mainly driven by the United States and China, the first and third biggest markets for French wines and spirits.

In the United States, sales rose 9.5 percent and broke the 3 billion euros mark for the first time, boosted by cognac, which accounted for 40 percent of exports in value.

In China, where growth of the upper-middle class is driving sales of luxury goods, shipments climbed 24.5 percent, to 1.2 billion euros, mainly due to cognac and Bordeaux wines.

Chinese customers have a better knowledge of products. They buy more upscale bottles, Leccia said.

After a few lean years in China, LVMH, Pernod Ricard and Remy Cointreau have had a rebound in sales of cognac in the country.

In total, cognac exports rose by 10.8 percent to 3.07 billion euros in 2017. Wine sales increased 9.6 percent to 8.67 billion euros, including a rise of 7.4 percent to 2.82 billion euros for champagne, FEVS said.

In Britain, France’s second biggest export market for wine and spirits, sales rose by 2.7 percent to 1.33 billion euros. Champagne sales to Britain, though, fell about 4-5 percent, hurt by the euro’s rise against the pound after the Brexit vote.

$1 = 0.8098 euros Reporting by Pascale Denis; writing by Sybille de La Hamaide; Editing by Brian Love and Jane Merriman