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Published:  23 July, 2008

Blossom Hill, the Californian brand that sells more than three million cases a year in the UK off-trade, is treated as an Italian wine, according to Her Majesty's Customs & Excise (HMCE). The same rule applies to all wines that are shipped to another country for bottling, and then imported to the UK.

An HMCE spokesman told Harpers: Our statistics look at the movement of goods. If wine was imported from the States to Italy, and then to the UK, it would show up as an arrival from Italy. Our statistics show the movement of goods, not the country of origin.'

For wines that are shipped in bulk to the UK, then bottled and sold here, such as Gallo's Turning Leaf, and the Constellation-owned Stowells, that is not a problem, but removing Blossom Hill from California renders the statistics meaningless. John McLaren, director of the Wine Institute of California's UK office, said: Clearly, Blossom Hill is neither Italian, nor does it originate there. If Customs just chooses to measure the movement of wine around the world, that's fine, but it's not much use to anyone. It seems a very lazy approach. I would think that in this day and age there would be a way of checking to establish the country of origin.'

McLaren admitted that when he worked as a wine buyer in the early 1990s, he would often use HMCE data, adding that with the rise of supermarkets he would more frequently turn to AC Nielsen for information.

He said: There are various things we want to measure, and what we get from Nielsen is pretty accurate. But when we want to talk about the market as a whole, the statistics just don't add up. It is amazing, actually, how much statistics from around the world differ.'

By Stuart Peskett