Sales at Aussie winemaker BRL Hardy rose 12.8% in 2002 although high competition and heavy discounting in Australia and Europe hit both key markets, the company said.

For the year to December 31 group sales grew to A$870.3m with net profit up 16.8% to $84.3m.

MD Stephen Millar said the results were achieved “in the most difficult wine industry trading conditions in the past decade”.

Shipments to the UK rose 11% but lower cask volumes due to faulty taps, discounting and major retailers running down stocks saw European pre-tax earnings rise just 2% to A$65.2m.

In Australia sales declined 6% to A$34.3m due to increased competition and discounting.

Pacific Wine Partners - BRL Hardy's joint venture with Constellation Brands - contributed A$23m to the group's pre-tax profit, driven by its Blackstone brand.

BRL Hardy shareholders are due to on the merger with Constellation Brands next month in a A$10.50 a share offer which aims to create the world's largest wine company with sales of more than A$3bn.

BRL added that a solid start had been made to sales this year and that the group's 2002 grape harvest is expected to make up for an expected decline of around 20% next year due to drought.