Constellation Wines Australia and Europe plans to expand its sales network in Eastern Europe as it seeks to establish itself in more wine growth markets.

The Stowells and Hardys winemaker plans to open an office in Ukraine in 2011, as well as increase its presence in other key regional markets such as Russia, Poland and Czech.

Russia, in particular, holds significant potential as a wine market, according to Constellation Europe, which was recently bought by CHAMP Private Equity and is set to be renamed Accolade Wines on 1 July.

James Lousada, Constellation's commercial general manager for Europe, told just-drinks that Russia again looks promising after a tough couple of years for the country's economy. "We've been sensing an up-tick in the last three to four months," he said on the sidelines of the London International Wine Fair (LIWF).

"At the moment, we're really only touching the surface in St Petersburg, Moscow and a bit beyond," he said. Constellation opened an office in Russia in 2008.

Speaking on Eastern Europe more generally, Lousada said that Constellation is prepared to play a long game in the likes of Poland, Ukraine, Czech and Russia. "If we start now then in five years we will have a significant business in those countries," he said.

At the same time, Lousada said that the UK remains "critically important" to the success of the Constellation Europe business.

His comments come amid debate at this year's LIWF as to the value of the UK wine market, which has been hit hard by duty tax increases, discounting and recession in the last couple of years.