The latest news from the Languedoc - November 2008

The average high temperature during October and November in Montpellier was
(we had a bit of cloud ....)


Bienvenue !

Welcome to our last Newsletter of 2008 and thank you for all the lovely comments we've received since we have been sending this out - we are delighted you enjoy it!

In this Christmassy edition we have, as always, included topical and interesting articles. Also, please take time to read the first one about our new Support Services company that will be of interest to those of you who already own property in the Languedoc-Roussillon.

New support and services offered !

AB Real Estate is pleased to announce the creation of its new team specialising in the provision of support and services to all those in need of professional, trustworthy and most importantly multilingual help with, well quite frankly, all and everything.

We are regularly approached by our clients seeking assistance in matters ranging from ringing France Telecom to finding a good builder able to renovate a castle.

We have therefore, through popular demand, set up a comprehensive support service, run by a dedicated team speaking several languages fluently, for not only clients buying in the area, but also for those of you who are already established here. Such is the breadth of our services, everyone can benefit from our knowledge.

Experience has taught us that there is a very real demand for resolving issues one takes for granted in ones own country and mother tongue. This is before considering the more onerous tasks such as planning applications, local legislation, red tape and such like.

Barriers might simply be a language issue, or it may be lack of time (with a busy day job back home), or just not knowing the area, people or the formalities involved and more often than not, a lack of contacts.

Our wide range of services on offer starts with simply getting you settled into your new home - opening a bank account, installing a telephone line or Internet, organising direct debits and perhaps having some decorating done or a new bathroom etc. We also offer cleaning, gardening and change-over services for those who rent out their properties, or just want them maintained while they are away. We will also manage the entire letting process.

After that, the sky is the limit, as we have many years experience offering an after sales service to our clients, we can take on any challenge.

you'll discover the problems,
we'll provide the solutions !

To find out more please take a look here

Vinification (winemaking)

In the last newsletter, we wrote about the vendange, or grape harvest, and promised to tell you something about vinification (winemaking) and the conversion of grapes, or grape juice, into wine.

You will have noticed the tractors and trailers busily ferrying the freshly picked grapes from the vineyards to either a Cave Co-Operative (that buys in grapes from all around the area) or to a private Domaine. The Cave Co-Operative will pay a price based not just on quantity but dependent on the quality of each harvest, the variety of grapes and their alcohol content.

The stems are removed from the grapes that are then slightly crushed, allowing the skins to pop open rather than mash them up. This produces a mixture of juice, skin, pulp, and pips which is allowed to ferment using the natural yeast present which converts the natural sugar of the grape into alcohol, although cultured yeast is oftened added to produce more consistent results. This normally takes between one and two weeks, after which the liquid is transferred to vessels for the secondary fermentation where the remaining sugars are slowly converted into alcohol and the wine becomes clear. Some wines are then allowed to age in oak barrels before bottling, while others are bottled directly.

Red wine is made from black grapes where the grape skins are left in during fermentation. White wine is usually made by fermenting juice pressed from white grapes, but can also be made from the fleshy bits of black grapes with minimal contact with the grapes' skins. Rosé wine is made from black grapes where the juice is allowed to stay in contact with the dark skins long enough to pick up a pinkish color (usually just a day or two), but little of the tannins contained in the skins are transferred making it a lighter wine to drink.

The time from harvest to drinking can vary from a few months for some wines to over twenty years for others. However, it is interesting to note that only about 10% of all red and 5% of white wine will taste better after five years than they would have after one year.

The winemaker can correct perceived inadequacies by blending (mixing different batches of wine from different grapes) or adjusting the acid or tannin levels. Fining agents are used to remove tannins, reduce astringency and remove microscopic particles that could cloud the wine.

The wine is then bottled and traditionally sealed with a cork, although alternatives such as synthetic corks and screwcaps are becoming increasingly popular.

A votre santé!

Les Champignons!

The popular French pastime of picking and eating wild mushrooms is upon us, but don't be surprised if the locals won't tell you where the best place is to find them it's a well guarded secret !

Depending on the climate, and generally the rainfall, wild mushrooms appear virtually overnight in woodlands that offer the right growing conditions from September and during October and November. The French disappear into the gloom with their special knife and a bag to collect this most prized bounty and emerge enthusiastically dreaming up recipes. Like most things in this area, the fact that it is free food adds to its appeal. You will often find them in the supermarkets around this time of year as well, but at a price.

There are over 300 different varieties of mushroom in France and only a few of these are edible. Even armed with a good book, it is not always easy to identify the edible ones from those that will make you very ill with sometimes fatal consequences (there are approx. 30 deaths each year in France caused by eating poisonous mushrooms). The best thing is to go down to your local pharmacist with your fungi and get them to tell you which ones are safe and which ones are not. If you do become ill after eating mushrooms and fear poisoning, then call the Emergency Services and if possible, take some of the mushrooms or the remains of the dish eaten with you.

You need to be sure that you are allowed in certain areas to pick mushrooms as those on private land belong to the owner. Your local Mairie will be able to advise you.

Etiquette requires that you pick mushrooms that have reached a certain size (not too tiny) so that they have had a chance to release their spores so that more will grow next year. You should also use knife to cut them at the base, rather than pull them out of the ground as this damages the underground part of the mushroom, and you should put them into a wicker basket so that the spores can fall onto the ground as you carry them back and thus aid propagation.

This is a useful site but in French

Happy foraging !

A few facts about Olives

Olive trees are very much a part of the scenery in the Mediterranean region and of major agricultural importance as the source of olive oil. It is used extensively in the typical Mediterranean cuisine (being the main cooking oil), and the fruits are delicious served with your aperitif! It is also a source of fine wood valued by woodworkers.

The trees are slow growing and rarely exceed 8-15 meters in height and are long-lived with a life expectancy of 500 years. However they can reach staggering ages - some olive trees are claimed to be over 2,000 years old. The olive is one of the plants most cited in recorded literature. It is evergreen and typically gnarled and twisted, producing little white flowers during the Spring which turn into olives ready for harvesting in winter.

Since many olive trees are self sterile or nearly so, they are generally planted in pairs in order for pollination to take place. They have a preference for growing near the coast where the climate conditions are more favourable and the soil tends to be calcareous and can withstand drought conditions due to their extensive root systems.

Where the olive is carefully cultivated, as in Languedoc and Provence, the trees are regularly pruned which preserves the flower-bearing shoots of the preceding year and keeps the tree low enough to allow the easy gathering of the fruit. The crop from old trees is sometimes enormous, but they seldom bear well two years in succession, and in many instances a large harvest can only be reckoned upon every sixth or seventh season.

Over 750 million olive trees are cultivated worldwide, 95% of which are in the Mediterranean region. Spain contributes 40-45% of the world production of olive oil and accounts for 93% of the European production.

Green olives and black olives are from the same plant; the green ones are picked before being ripened and the black ones after. They are high in monounsaturated fat, iron, vitamin E and dietry fibre. Considerable research supports the health-giving benefits of consuming olives and olive oil such as favourable effects on cholesterol regulation and that its antiinflamatory, antithrombotic and antihypertensive effects as well.

The naturally bitter fruit is typically soaked and washed thoroughly in water to remove the bitter carbohydrate, then drained and subjected to fermentation or cured with brine to make it more palatable. The olives are edible within two weeks to a month, but can be left to cure for up to three months.

Most olives today are harvested by shaking the boughs or the whole tree into a net that wraps around the trunk of the tree and opens to form an umbrella-like catcher. Table olive varieties are more difficult to harvest, as workers must take care not to damage the fruit.

Olive oil is the oil extracted from the olive fruit by grinding. Green olives produce bitter oil, and overripe ones produce rancid oil, so care is taken to make sure the olives are perfectly ripened. The olives are ground into paste using large millstones which takes approximately 30-40 minutes. The oil collected during this part of the process is called virgin oil and extra-virgin oil. After grinding, the olive paste is spread on fibre disks, which are stacked on top of each other, then placed into the press. Pressure is then applied onto the disk to further separate the oil from the paste. This second step produces a lower grade of oil.

Olive oil is classified mainly as either 'virgin', which means the oil was produced by the use of physical means and no chemical treatment, or 'refined' which means that the oil has been chemically treated to neutralise strong tastes and the acid content. Extra-virgin olive oil comes from the first cold pressing of the olives and is judged to have a superior taste. Extra-virgin and virgin olive oil do not contain refined oil. Oils labelled as 'pure olive oil' or 'olive oil' are usually a blend of refined and virgin or extra-virgin oil.

Things to do in the winter months

Tempting though it is to snuggle up in front of the fire and eat comfort food, with thoughts of tennis, cycling and long walks along the beach far from your mind, there is a multitude of things to do this winter to keep you on the go. Theatres, exhibitions, galleries, tourist sites without the tourists, markets, dance clubs, gym and plenty more. Ask at your local Mairie for details of things going on in your village.

As Christmas looms you may well be tempted to go and wander around the many markets for inspiration (on the Christmas pressy front). An absolute 'must' this year is the Christmas Cracker Fair at Chateau Abbaye de Cassan in Roujan on Sunday Nov 30th with over 60 stall holders selling Christmas faire, crackers, gifts, and food etc. It was great last year but this year promises to be absolutely fabulous! Other Christmas fairs in the area include 7th December at St Nazaire de Ladarez, 14th December at Villeneuve Minervois and also on 14th December at Beaucaire. Who needs M&S ??

The credit crunch in France

With the world financial system in turmoil, no country is immune from the crisis, but France seems a safer bet than most.

The conservative nature of the French State may be derided by free marketeers, but with the decomposition of world capital markets, the centrally planned nature of French society could well become the new model capitalism of the future.

Whilst other governments around the globe run to the aid of national banks in trouble, there is an air of cautious optimism in France that French banks will weather the storm far better than most.

The factors that should reassure savers in France are that the French banking system is made of sterner stuff than other banks in Europe and the US - there are four main reasons why you should have a bit more confidence in them.

  1. French banks undertake investment banking, but they do not do so exclusively and most of it is also focussed in Europe and Asia, rather than the exposed and strife torn US.
  2. the lending practices of French banks are based firmly on a tough test of ability to pay before a loan can be agreed. French banks do not lend on the basis of the value of the property, but as a proportion of your income.
  3. unlike Anglo-Saxon countries there is no large market for variable interest rate mortgages. Most French mortgages are granted on a fixed interest basis, with the borrower also required to take out mandatory life insurance to cover repayment of the mortgage.
  4. like all banks across Europe, France has a system of guarantee for personal savings in the event of bankruptcy of a French bank. The ceiling figure is set at €70,000 per person, per bank. This means that a couple have a guarantee of €140,000 on a joint savings account with a bank.

As if this were not enough, President Sarkozy recently assured households that, in the (highly unlikely) event of the collapse of the banking system, no-one would lose a single euro of their savings, an assurance later repeated by his Prime Minister and Minister of Finance. You can either take that with a pinch of salt, or regard it as a cast-iron guarantee, but it is a statement the French public are unlikely to let him forget!

All in all then, you can expect to be reasonably sheltered from the storm if you hold savings in France. Credit is going to get tighter, it may also become more expensive, and life might just get a bit tougher, but your savings are safer than they might be anywhere else.

For property buyers the crisis brings with it good and bad news. Whilst the lack of credit in the market place is inevitably going to cause prices to drop, the cost of capital is also likely to rise, offsetting potential gains achieved from lower prices. The real winners are going to be cash buyers.

Taken from :

Joyeux Noël et Bonne Année

Wishing you all a very happy Christmas and a prosperous New Year - may 2009 bring all you hope for.

As always, please feel free to contact us at any time with your queries or comments.

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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