Over three weeks this summer, Vevey in Switzerland will be transformed into a stage. The Fête des Vignerons will be coming to town. But this is not any ordinary fete. This one happens only once in a generation.
While Vevey might not be considered a modest town in stature (it is the home of Nestlé HQ), it is modest in size. Nevertheless, its population of just under 17,600 people will welcome up to 400,000 visitors over the course of the 25-day Fête des Vignerons 2019 celebration, this July and August.
In order to carry off this tremendous feat, 1,000 volunteer organisers and 5,500 performers will join forces. There will be a colossal arena built in Vevey’s historic market square, which can seat 20,000 spectators, the equivalent of The O2 in London. All will be overseen by the Confrérie des Vignerons.
In the Middle Ages and up until the 19th century, the vineyards in Lavaux and Chablais were owned by the bourgeoisie and the Bernois authorities during their occupation (1536-1798). They did not work their own land but hired vigneron-tâcherons (wine-growers) to manage their vineyards for them. Since the landowners could not be on site all of the time, an organisation was created that oversaw the work: the Confrérie des Vignerons. This is still the main role of the Confrérie today.
Over time, the Confrérie realised that better work was achieved when skilled wine-growers were rewarded. In the beginning, this celebration was fairly low-key but over time, the proceedings grew into something far more elaborate and the Fête des Vignerons was born.
The first Fête took place in 1797, followed by 1819, 1833, 1851, 1865, 1889, 1905, 1927, 1955, 1977, 1999 and now 2019. Gaps between celebrations varied between 14-32 years, depending on world events and wars. Today, the gap between Fêtes ranges from 20-25 years, with the date – always an odd-numbered year – decided by the council members of the Confrérie des Vignerons.
Plan your visit: Vevey Fête des Vignerons 2019
• Fête des Vignerons 2019 will take place from 18 July to 11 August 2019
• Ticket prices start at CHF79. Some tickets will be available to buy on the day
• Demand for hotels in Vevey will be high, but there are many options. The town is well placed on the Swiss rail system. Geneva is an hour away; Sion, the ancient capital city of Valais, is 50 minutes away, and Lausanne just 15 minutes away. Driving is not recommended due to limited parking.
• The show will last for around 2.5 hours, without an intermission
Each Fête over the years has been unique, though recent editions have followed a similar programme. The first day features the coronation and awards ceremony for the top wine-growers, followed by a spectacular show. The same show will then be performed daily (or nightly, depending on the date). This year, the lead dramatist and director of the Fête is Daniele Finzi Pasca, a Swiss native from Ticino. He has previously choreographed monumental shows such as the closing ceremonies of both the Turin and Sochi Winter Olympics, as well as Cirque du Soleil performances and operas in London, Naples and St Petersburg.
Pasca will tell the story of the vineyard worker and the vines throughout the growing season, as viewed through the eyes of a child and her grandfather who is in the midst of harvest. With a fantastical approach, similar to the surrealism of Alice in Wonderland, objects will come to life and spectators will be transported to a magical world surrounded by music and visual effects. But the show will also demonstrate the challenges, and solitude, faced by vineyard workers.
During the performance, spectators will also experience an enchanting choral rendition of Ranz des Vaches (also called Kühreihen or Lyoba), a celebrated folk tune that was played by Swiss herdsmen with Alpine horns as they led their cows to and from pasture. many Swiss people view this melody as their honorary anthem; indeed such is their connection to it that it is said people will weep if it is played when they are far from their homeland.
Outside the main performance, food and drink stands, children’s activities and other entertainment will be on offer around the centre of town. Each day a different Swiss canton will be the guest of these festivities, focusing on their own regional culture and gastronomic fare. These extra activities will be free of charge to access.
The Fête des Vignerons is a singular, once in a generation event – full of culture, music and wine. the perfect reason for any wine lover to visit.
Wine events to be held around Vaud in 2019
3-8 April Divinum, Morges
A wine exhibition in the picturesque lakeside village of Morges, featuring more than 1,200 wines to taste, from all over Switzerland and beyond.
More than 300 wine producers in Vaud open their cellars for tastings. Many will feature food by Michelin-starred chefs and other special activities.
27–29 September Fête des Vendanges, Lutry
A weekend of concert performances, open cellars at local wineries, and family-friendly events including a guided walking tour for families, through the vineyards.
Robin Kick MW is a wine consultant, educator and judge based in Switzerland. She formerly worked at Christie’s in Los Angeles and as a buyer at Goedhuis & Co in London.