Small, publicly listed Australian premium producer Pipers Brook is seeking acquisitions or joint ventures with other Australian regional producers.

With expansion restricted in its cool climate home state of Tasmania, Pipers Brook believes it can use its domestic and international sales network to profitably distribute Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon from other regions as complements to its renowned Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc sparkling and still wines.

It has retained Malcolm McComas, of Sydney investment bank, Grant Samuel, to advise it.

One analyst said that the announcement was a 'for sale' sign but Pipers Brook founder and Managing Director, Dr Andrew Pirie, said the company was looking in front of itself and not behind.

He said in a media release that regional diversification would help lift the company's medium term financial performance 'following the negative impact of the 1999 vintage and the diversion of grapes to build the company's sparkling wine brand.'

"This is a logical step," he said. "We need to scale up and spread our climatic risk."

Pipers Brook Vineyards lost $A45,000 (£14,062) post-tax in the six months to December 31 following a post-tax profit of $A732,000 in 1999-2000 with EBIT up 57%.

It currently counts Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane as its main domestic markets and is exporting to 12 countries, mainly the UK and US but with Scandinavian and Asian countries increasing in importance.

Chris Snow