The latest news from the Languedoc - September 2008

The average high temperature during June, July and August in Montpellier was


Bienvenue !

The summer is coming to its end, the evenings are a little cooler (obviously not the same climate as the UK!) and thoughts turn to Autumn.

This month we have included some topical articles on the grape harvest and the start of the hunting season as well as some informative and practical ones. I hope you enjoy it.

The vendange or grape harvest

If you asked a viticulteur in May/June if they thought this year was going to be a good harvest or not, without tempting fate, they would have said yes as there was plenty of rain in the Spring and a hot, dry summer. However, the recent rains have thwarted progress of the vendange that is already a week later than last year.

The grapes are ripe and ready for picking, but the vendange is not possible in these adverse conditions. If the grapes are picked while they are wet, they will start to rot before they can be processed and this will affect the quality of the wine. However, while they remain on the vines, they become gorged by the rain and there is a danger they will burst before they can be picked which will also have an adverse effect on the taste and quality of the wine.

Around Neffies, North of Pezenas, on the evening of 4th September, a hail stone storm virtually demolished the whole crop in the area, leaving the vines without a single grape or leaf, looking for all the world as if it were the middle of winter.

The white grapes were all harvested by the end of August but there was 30% less yield than last year. Their alcohol content was measured at 12.5-13% for the Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc.

The red grapes Syrah, Merlot and Grenache, have an alcohol content of 13.5-14% which is very good but it all depends on whether they can be harvested before they are ruined by the rain.

For the last 15 years or so, the vendange is mainly done by machinery now. Some viticulteurs still pick by hand which is more expensive but better quality wine is produced. 30 years ago, the Spanish would come across the border to do the vendange, and would stay in the local villages for the two months at the end of which there was a huge fête. The little stone houses in the vineyards, called mazet, are their only legacy as they were used to shelter the horses during the noonday heat.

Around St Chinean and Berlou the vendange is one week later because of the cooler climate, whereas around Perpignan it is earlier as it is warmer. Grapes are then either sold to a Cave Coopérative or used by the private domaine. Vinification (the conversion of grapes, or grape juice, into wine) will be covered next month!

The hunting season is upon us

There is a popular myth that the French just grab their gun (carelessly propped up against the back door), head out and shoot anything that moves.

Absolutely, 110% not true. As with most things in France, there is an inordinate amount of bureaucracy involved before you can venture out with a view to acquiring something for dinner. However, it is all and very honourably about security, safety and the conservation and protection of wildlife. According to the National Hunting Federation, hunting is the second most widely practised sport in France after football.

The laws and regulations for having a gun are considerably more relaxed than they are in the UK and it seems here everybody has a gun and walks around with a Laguiole knife in their pocket and nobody thinks you're weird, eccentric or dangerous.

Long before you are allowed anywhere near a gun and something fluffy with twinkly eyes, you must pass a theory and practical exam. There are eliminatory questions which, if you get them wrong, mean you must retake the exam another time, even if you get all the other questions right.

Having got through this very arduous process and now the proud owner of a hunting permit, you need pay between 115€ to 400€ a year depending on if you are hunting small or big game and if you are hunting in just your Département (County) or in the whole of France. Then you need to pay about 50€ a year for a local permit or timbre.

Insurance is absolutely obligatory and if a guard de chasse stops you and you don't have your papers on you, you will incur a fine and possibly have your permit taken away. There are also numerous rules and if you are caught contravening any of these, depending on the severity, punishment could range from a fine, to having your licence taken away for a period of 1-3 years after which you need to re-sit the exams again, or in extreme cases, to having your permit taken away from you for life.

The hunting season officially starts on 15th August when keen hunters go up into the mountains in search of Sangliers or Wild Boar. The Mairie of each village decides when the rest of the hunting season starts, after the vendanges, normally the first week of October and which days of the week when there is no hunting allowed. For four weeks the vineyards are full of hunters searching for Partridge, or Perdrix Rouge. This is a much-loved sport and a delicious bird to eat, so due to its very short season this is why the area suddenly feels like a war zone. Each animal has its own hunting season which is regulated to ensure numbers are controlled and that the animal is not disturbed during breeding. For big game each village is allocated a certain number of coded bracelets. If anyone is caught with a dead animal without a bracelet there are serious consequences.

In general big game tends to be hunted up in the mountains and small game down on the plane. For big game a rifle, or carabine, is used with a bullet that can still kill at a range of 5 km. This style of hunting tends to be very well organised in order to minimise risk, and wherever possible, hunters are positioned on a hill and shoot down into a valley so that if they miss, the bullet (or ball) will bury itself into the ground.

Small game is hunted with a shotgun, or fusil, and cartridges (cartouches) filled with numerous lead pellets (plomb) which are only effective up to a range of around 30-40 m after which they feel like hail stones if they hit you.

So, a brief summary of a great passion of this area that is very much a part of the French local culture. Most hunters are lovers of nature and the countryside, treating it with great respect, and are out there to enjoy the fresh air and to work with their dogs. Like most sports, it is a very social affair too, and often a day's hunting will finish with a meal, probably eating the game they have killed with their comrades, and washed down with wine in a convivial atmosphere.

It is important to remember that thanks to an active hunting programme that is closely monitored and regulated, there is much more wildlife to be seen in its natural environment than would otherwise disappear through predators, disease and the intrusion of man. Many hunting groups and societies breed and release numerous birds each year, protect the young birds and baby animals, often treating maladies, and ensuring the continuation of healthy populations of wild animals in the countryside. Without their help and funds ploughed back into projects, the wildlife of this region would undoubtedly suffer.

How is Sarkozy doing ?

Nicholas Sarkozy has been in office now for over a year as President of France, and in July of this year he took up the position of head of the EU Council as France started its six month presidency.

He has set out his goals concerning climate change, greater use of nuclear power, to strengthen the EU's defence capabilities, control illegal immigration and to reform the agricultural subsidy system.

A recent poll showed that less than a third of French people had any confidence that he will make any significant progress during France's term.

We will have to wait until next January when the Czech Republic takes over to see what exactly Sarkozy has accomplished.

How to register a UK car in France

First the car needs to go through an MOT in France, or Controlle Technique. You will be asked to present the DVLA Vehicle Registration Document and you will be given a certificate following the test.

Then you need to apply for the French equivalent of the Vehicle Registration Document (Certificate d'Immatriculation or Carte Grise). To get it you need to fill in a form called the Demande de Certificate d'Immatriculation which you can get from your local tax office.

You will need to get a Quitus Fiscale from the Hotel des Impots which is a document that states there is no money owed on the car. They will ask you for the UK vehicule registration document, Certificate of Permanent Export from the DVLA, certificate of conformity (states that the vehicle passes EU safety standards), receipt of purchase, passport and a domestic bill (gas, electricty, phone) as proof of address.

Then go to the Prefecture with all your documents duly completed and your cheque book (they won't accept credit cards or cash) and Bob's your Uncle !

France/UK Tax Treaty

A new comprehensive Double Taxation Treaty between the United Kingdom and France was signed in London on 19 June 2008.

It is hoped the treaty will 'avoid double taxation and prevent fiscal evasion with respect to taxes on income and capital gains'.

It should close previous loopholes (such as capital gains on a property sold in the UK by a French resident) and widen the scope for governments to investigate tax evasion. It will replace the 1968 version and come into force in 2010.

The wording is somewhat ambigous and unclear as to what is exactly included by the treaty, but in general it appears the UK taxes which are covered are limited to income, corporation and capital gains tax. The French side covers all taxes including local authority ones and social contributions.

There is to be a wealth tax exemption for the first five years that a UK national becomes a French resident on their assets located outside of France, but not obviously on their assets in Fance.

There are those that are sceptical owing to the fact that a treaty was signed back in 2004 but never became law so nothing is guaranteed, however most feel that this one will go through with perhaps only minor changes to the original draft.

As always, every case is different and it is best to seek professional advice on your personal circumstances in order to optimise your investments and make any changes necessary before 2010.

Fancy a walk ?

As the heat comes out of the sun and Autumn is around the corner, now is the time to put on your walking boots and do one of the wonderful walks around the region in the many national natural parks, forests and lakes.

There are several guide books that can be bought in sports stores or large supermarkets that cover the Languedoc-Rousillon area in general or more specifically each deparment.

The guides mark out walks that take you in a wide circle, bringing you back to your starting poing and tell you the distance, difficulty and estimated time to walk it. They also point out sites of interest, where you can get water and how to get there.

Some useful information can be found here

À Bientôt

Thanks once again for taking the time to read our newsletter and as always I hope you found it interesting. Please feel free to contact us at any time with your queries or comments, or even just to say hello as we love to hear from you.

Please feel free to call us on

+33 (0) 4 67 36 36 80 in France


0871 990 2000 from UK

or by email

With best wishes

Annelise Bosshard
Managing Director
AB Real Estate

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