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.

15 things you didn’t know about Switzerland's famous Fête des Vignerons
A rehearsal for the festival. Photo: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP
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. 
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.

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What is Switzerland’s ‘one franc vineyards’ scheme – and is it legit?

When news broke of vineyards being offered in the southwest of Switzerland for one franc, many asked if it was too good to be true. Here's what you need to know about the scheme (and how much a vineyard will actually cost you).

What is Switzerland's 'one franc vineyards' scheme - and is it legit?

Earlier in Spring, news broke of a new scheme where Swiss vineyards were available for just one franc. 

As with similar stories offering one franc plots of land or houses, the news spread far and wide – which of course was the point – while some eventually became disappointed. 

READ MORE: Gambarogno: The latest Swiss village to sell houses for one franc

While it’s likely to cost you a good deal more than one franc, if owning a Swiss vineyard (or at least part of it) is on your bucket list, you now have an opportunity to do so. 

Why are Swiss vineyards going cheap?

With nearly 5,000 hectares of vineyards and 60 different grape varieties, Valais is Switzerland’s largest wine-growing region.

Unfortunately, 20 percent of the canton’s vines are abandoned and municipalities must uproot them because they can’t find people willing to cultivate them.

A case in point is the community of Savièse, nestled in a picturesque Alpine valley. About 120 plots — four to five hectares — of  its vineyards were abandoned by their owners and therefore not harvested last year, as the commune can’t find people to do the work.

This is a serious case of neglect because “when a vine is not pruned, there is a period of one year to uproot it. Otherwise, there is a risk of spreading disease”, according to Savièse’s mayor, Sylvain Dumoulin.

“There are some vines where we need to do this now, and I fear the number will increase in the future”, he added.

How much does a plot cost?

In order to protect its winemaking traditions in general and abandoned plots in particular, the municipality has launched a new vines-saving project which includes a “stock exchange” of sorts for the sale and purchase of abandoned parcels.

READ MORE: EXPLAINED: How to drink wine like a Swiss

Dumoulin didn’t reveal the cost of a plot of vineyard, as it depends on its location, condition and other factors.

Unfortunately, while you may have seen articles reporting that parcels are being sold for “a symbolic one franc”, this is more than likely a marketing ploy to attract attention than a realistic price.

Savièse’s vineyards. Screenshot, Saviè

“The main long-term objective is to encourage the grouping of plots and thus the rationalisation of the exploitation of these parcels”, Dumoulin told The Local.

He added that currently the project is “exclusively accessible for people who already own vineyards. But from July it will be open to anyone with an interest in purchasing vineyard areas”.

From then on, “anyone can download the application to find plots of vines for sale and to make their owner a price proposal”. 

The app, called “Vignoble Savièse” can be purchased in Apple or Google stores.

One example of such a gimmick was the Ticino town of Gambarogno, located on the shores of Lake Maggiore, which offered houses for one franc.

‘Impossible’: Why Switzerland’s one franc homes are too good to be true

As The Local reported, “the news – along with pictures of the Ticino countryside and the lake itself – spread across the globe, with people inside and outside of Switzerland letting themselves dream”. 

However, the “rustic houses with the view of the lake” turned out to be nothing more than ruins, with no roofs, windows, electricity or running water, situated in remote locations — about an hour’s walk from the nearest village.