* Sale comes as Australian wine sales sparkle
* CHAMP bought 80 pct of Accolade for A$290 mln in 2011 (Adds background, CHAMP CEO quote)
SYDNEY, April 5 (Reuters) - Global private equity firm The Carlyle Group has agreed to buy Australia's Accolade Wines for A$1 billion ($770 million), Accolade's majority owner CHAMP Private Equity said on Thursday.
That is more than three times what CHAMP paid when it formed Accolade after buying Constellation Brands' Australian winemaking operations, along with some U.K. and South African labels, for A$290 million seven years ago.
Since then the fortunes of Australia's wine industry have dramatically recovered, swinging from an oversupply of cheap drops to soaring exports of premium wines, especially to China.
In 2011 Constellation retained a 20 percent stake in Accolade, maker of wine brands such as Hardy's and Petaluma, with CHAMP holding the remaining 80 percent. Carlyle agreed to buy both pieces together for A$1 billion, CHAMP said in a statement.
CHAMP said on Thursday that Accolade was "an export-driven platform pointing towards Asia," generating "more than A$350 million" in annual exports. When CHAMP formed Accolade, Constellation had just reported a quarterly operating loss of $3 million for its Australia and Europe wine segment.
"We saw an opportunity, but the wine industry has long cycles so we knew we had to commit to a longer hold in order to realize that opportunity," CHAMP Chief Executive John Haddock said in a statement.
The timing caps the best year in a decade for Australian wine producers, as a free trade deal with China underpinned a 63 percent surge in exports there and lifted Accolade's main local rival, Treasury Wine Estates to a record half-year profit.
Carlyle and Constellation did not immediately respond to requests for comment. ($1 = 1.2957 Australian dollars) (Reporting by Tom Westbrook, Editing by Rosalba O'Brien and James Dalgleish)