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French officials threaten to deport Japanese winemaker couple

A ruling that could force a Japanese winemaker couple in Roussillon to leave France has sparked an online petition to keep them in the country.

Rié and Hirofumi Shoji, former students of Alain Ducasse Tokyo, acquired a small estate of 3.5 hectares in the vineyards around Collioure, just north of Banyuls and close to the Spanish border.

They named it Pedres Blanques and the debut 2017 vintage, made with Grenache Noir and produced in a ‘natural’ style, has won early admirers, reportedly including one of the world’s best restaurants, El Celler de Can Roca, over the border in Girona.

But the Shojis’ story has threatened to turn sour in 2018 after the local government – or ‘préfecture’ – for Pyrenées-Orientales refused the couple a residence permit.

‘The residence permit could not be issued, and on 3 April 2018 they were notified of an obligation to leave French territory by 12 April,’ said the préfecture.

An online petition to keep the couple in France has been signed by more than 30,500 people.

The Shojis have appealed and their lawyer, Maitre Jean Codognès, told Decanter.com, ‘The préfecture justifies having taken its decision due to the initial business plan provided by Rié and Hirofumi Shoji for obtaining their bank loan.

‘The business plan was based on an estimated [retail] price of 12 euro per bottle [for their wine], which would not provide a monthly salary of 2,000 euro.

‘But it is illusory to examine the profitability of a new venture from the first day. The business plan is only a projection of the future.’

Currently, the 2017 red vintage of Pedres Blanques was being sold for between 25 euros and 30 euros per bottle in France, Belgium, Switzerland and Sweden – although Belgium’s Altrovino listed it as out-of-stock.

Maitre Codognès said that 75% of the 2018 vintage was already sold, meaning earnings should not be an issue.

The Shojis studied winemaking in France and have done internships at several wine producers, including at JF Mugnier in Chambolle-Musigny and Château La Tour du Pin Figeac in St-Emilion.

A decision on their appeal was expected by 6 September.

Editing by Chris Mercer

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