15 things you didn’t know about Switzerland's famous Fête des Vignerons
It’s the festival of the summer, the once-in-a-generation wine-themed bash that has put the town of Vevey on every travel magazine’s must-visit list this year. But how much do you actually know about the Fête des Vignerons? Before the party starts on 18 July, we give you the lowdown.
1. The Fête des Vignerons has been running since the late 18th century – but this is only the 12th edition. Held roughly every 20 years or so in Vevey, the festival aims to “represent the era we live in now” by involving the whole community in its organisation. Its sporadic occurrence only adds to its mythic status.
2. The festival is organised by the Confrérie des Vignerons, a local winegrowers’ association with a long history which oversaw the local wine industry from at least the 17th century, perhaps longer. From around the 1770s, it aimed to encourage perfectionism in winemaking and show off local winegrowers in an annual parade. In 1797, the association’s president decided to reward the best winegrowers in a public ceremony, which became the very first Fête des Vignerons.
3. Despite that first festival’s success, political turmoil meant it wasn’t held again until 1819, so beginning the tradition of staging the event once in a generation.
4. The centrepiece of the festival is its daily show, which tells the story of the vineyard through the seasons. Some 5,500 actors are involved this year, along with a 500-strong choir, the Gstaad Festival Orchestra, a big band, alphorn players, brass musicians and percussionists.
Photo: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP
5. The first festival, in 1797, held its main performances on a wooden platform with 2,000 seats. This year’s show will be held in a vast 30m-high stadium built on the Place du Marché, featuring a main stage the size of an Olympic swimming pool, an 870m2 LED floor and seats for 20,000 people.
6. It cost one franc to get a seat at the very first festival, equivalent to about a day’s work for a winegrower at the time. Tickets for this year’s festival range from 79 francs to 299 francs.
7. The festival grew in popularity at each edition, and by 1865 the main arena had 10,000 seats.
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8. At each festival selected winegrowers are ‘crowned’ in a ceremony that acknowledges the best performing winegrowers over the last few years. This year’s crowning ceremony is held on 18 July during the first performance.
9. Appropriately, the crowns have been made by a local forge in the winegrowing village of Chexbres, amid the ancient vineyards of Lavaux.
10. The director and designer of this year’s show is Daniele Finzi Pasca, a Lugano native who designed the closing ceremonies for the Olympics in Turin 2006 and Sochi 2014. He has also written and directed for renowned circus troupe Cirque du Soleil.
11. New for this year, each day of the festival will be dedicated to a different canton in Switzerland, with delegations from each of the 26 cantons arriving to represent their cultural and winegrowing traditions.
Photo: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP
12. One tradition during the show is the singing of the Ranz des Vaches, a song symbolising the winegrowing and cheesemaking region that stretches from Vaud to Fribourg, which has been sung at every festival since 1819.
13. In addition to the show itself, the festival will take over the lakeside of Vevey with food and wine stalls, music and parades.
14. The Fête des Vignerons was added to Unesco’s intangible cultural heritage list in 2016.
15. Festival organisers estimate that between 300,000 and 500,000 bottles of wine will be consumed during the month-long festival. At the last edition in 1999, a mere 210,000 bottles were sold.
The festival runs from 18 July to 11 August in Vevey. Haven't got your tickets yet? Find out more and buy here.