Australian wine group BRL Hardy and American partner Constellation, with their joint Pacific Wine Partners operation, plan to build up US sales to an annual 5m cases within a five-ten year framework, according to Stephen Millar, BRL Hardy's managing director.

Millar was commenting on the announcement of the acquisition of the Californian Blackstone winery for A$290m (US$140m).

BRL Hardy's international trading director David Woods said there was potential to expand Blackstone's production three or fourfold with very little capital expenditure, using spare capacity at PWP's Monterey winery.

There was also scope to expand a brand range, which is at present dominated by merlot, accounting for 70% of sales.

Woods said the Blackstone acquisition was the result of a rigorous review of US opportunities. "This provides us with a sufficient base on which to grow the US business organically. The BRL Hardy contribution of A$145m matches the amount raised by the company with its recent rights issue."