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Ben Goss

Ben Goss

As part of my ongoing efforts to improve my French, I’ve just got back from an immersion course in the Cévennes National Park in the south of France.

As a group, we stayed in a large gîte on a farm, ate all our meals together and travelled around the area visiting caves and olive oil presses, going kayaking, tasting wine, and picking up new vocabulary along the way. 

In the local village, life has changed very little for a very long time.

We visited the wine co-operative, which has been there for 100 years, maintaining practices unchanged since the current generation’s great-grandparents worked the vines.

Every year it buys wine from all the growers in the commune. Every year the best growers prop up the price for the worst. There’s a sense that everyone is in it together. 

The owner of the farmhouse was part of the eighth generation of his family to have been born there.

He took us out back and showed us the family gravestones. As protestants, his family cannot be buried in the catholic churchyard, so as he walks his fields, he has this daily reminder of his long lineage of connection with the land. 

For me, this felt like a trip to another time. It was easy to imagine that everyone in this community, cut off by the surrounding forest, was protected from the travails of the modern world. 

But of course, they were not.

One day over lunch, someone asked me what I did for a living. I explained, and we all ended up talking for a while about planning for retirement.

Across the table, a local guy of 56, drinking red wine and eating a leisurely meal on a Wednesday afternoon, told us that as a truck driver he had been able to retire a year earlier on around three quarters of his salary, as permitted by French law.

He will certainly feel the stretch in an environment of rising prices, but he was pretty much set for life. But he could also see that for the next generation that world won’t be available. 

To my left sat one of the vineyard owners. His concerns were extremely familiar: all his input costs are rising; fertiliser prices are going through the roof; making ends meet is more and more challenging.

Meanwhile, the woman running the co-op told us pricing is incredibly difficult at the moment because everyone has to forward commit to next year’s harvest, which is a harder task each year as the climate changes. 

The need to plan ahead, to take risk – to work out how much risk to take felt very familiar to me.

And in fact everyone at the table agreed that the role of the financial adviser is a very important one, because making decisions about the future involves lots of unknowns even at the best of times.