Fête des Vignerons. The words “Switzerland” and “party” are
rarely never associated together.
So when I heard about a Swiss wine festival that happens once every 20 years, I had to check it out.
Vevey is a small, mildly picturesque village, quietly nestled on the shores of Lake Geneva, overlooking the edge of the Alps.
About an hour east of Geneva, it is a area so peaceful that Charlie Chaplin decided to die there.
You would never think that once every 20 or so years, Vevey holds one of the largest wine festivals on the planet.
The town of 18,000 will host hundreds of thousands of people during the Fête des Vignerons which takes place no more than 5 times per century on an undetermined schedule.
Recognized by the UN and UNESCO for it’s “intangible cultural heritage” it is truly a unique festival in every way, bringing generations together in a celebration for the ages.
The festival has its roots in the 17th and 18th centuries where banquets and processions took place celebrating the regions vineyards. But mostly they wanted a good piss-up.
These grew larger until 1797 when the Confrérie des Vignerons (Brotherhood of Winegrowers) decided to reward the regions most prestigious winegrowers in a public ceremony. Their focus was to promote the quality of the wine and perfect the wine-making process.
Due to the Vaudoise Revolution, the next Fête did not happen until 1819. This laid the foundations for the festival to take place no more than 5 times per century.
Over the years, the size of the arenas and performances have grown immensely. The facilities take over a year to build and they hosts a series of “spectacles” or performances over a month which highlight the rich cultural heritage of Switzerland’s wine growing regions.
The celebrations centre around a gigantic temporary stadium with a capacity of 20,000 people. There are an estimated 6000 performers and 1000 singers taking part in the performances in 2019.
But the spectacles are only a small taste of what happens here.
There is so much more.
No festival would be complete without a man giving musical saw playing lessons. Obviously.
Night performances, parades, free concerts and food from around the world are on offer.
Impromptu street performances randomly occur and I frequently witnessed large groups of sing-a-longs on public transport.
The real highlight is discovering all of the “caveaux” hidden around town.
Normally, Vevey has a handful of dull empty bars (and one awesome non-stop burger bar), but during the festival, hundreds of tiny pop-up bars appear out of nowhere, usually in underground wine cellars.
They range between chilled patios to massive sweaty underground cave like wine cellars filled shoulder to shoulder with people. People hop/crawl/dance from one caveau to the next to find their desired music, atmosphere, drink, music or friends.
The surrounding area turns into one gigantic street party of young and old. Performers and traditional dress are everywhere.
The Swiss are notoriously poor at promoting their festivals. This always seemed ridiculous to me until I realized that they just don’t care. They don’t want more people, they want a better celebration. Quality over quantity. They do not want it to turn into a Running of the Bulls or La Tomatina – they are doing it to celebrate their rich history of wine-making in the region.
This festival is not for you or me – this festival is for them. By taking place so rarely, this festival truly links generations together. It is a completely unique celebration and I am glad I was able to be a part of it.
If you are in the area, there is also a wide variety of sights to check out if you have time. The Charlie Chaplin Museum is a must for any film fan. You can feel his presence all over the area and visiting his old house and the Tardis-like museum is a real treat. His grave site along with Oona is in nearby Corsier-sur-Vevey. James Mason is also buried in the exquisite and peaceful cemetery.
The Museum of Games, Läderach Chocolate Shop, Vineyards of Lavaux, Montreux and the Olympic Museum in Lausane are all nearby. Or venture slightly further to Geneva which has tours of the United Nations, The Red Cross and Red Crescent Museum and CERN.
Full information on the Fête des Vignerons can be found here: https://www.fetedesvignerons.ch/en/
The festival runs until August 11, 2019.
So you better hurry.
If you missed it, you’ll have to wait until sometime between 2039-2044.