US drinks group, Constellation Brands Inc., has reported a strong rise in earnings for the first quarter. The New York-based company posted earnings of $37.4m for the quarter to the end of May, against $23.8m for the corresponding period a year earlier. Net sales increased by 9% to $649m. The

The company attributed the strong performance, ahead of analysts' forecasts, to growth in imported beer and fine wine sales and a price increase for its Mexican brands. The company's portfolio includes Ravenswood wines and the Peroni imported beer brand.

Gross profit for the quarter stood at $175m against $153m last year. Imported beer and spirit sales rose by 12% to $270m, with imported beer sales rising by 14% and spirits up by 5%. Net sales of fine wines rose by 40% to $35m following the integration of Ravenswood which Constellation acquired in July 2001. Without the inclusion of Ravenswood, fine wine sales were down 8%.