“Chasselas Forever” read the t-shirt of the man sitting across from me on the train to Vevey, Switzerland. Given his fondness for this iconic Swiss wine, I assumed he was also traveling with me and thousands of others to the Fête des Vignerons (Winegrowers’ festival) — in my case, for the second time in less than a week.
During the first 15 days of the festival, an estimated 600,000 visitors have been to Vevey. I didn’t originally plan on going to this festival more than once, but for two reasons I went back.
Reason #1 – The grand “Spectacle” I attended on July 25 was cancelled. Almost mid-way into the performance, a severe thunderstorm made it impossible for the performance to continue. Thankfully, the festival allowed the audience to return for a rescheduled performance, honoring our same tickets.
Reason #2 – I underestimated the magnitude of the Fête des Vignerons. I went to the festival twice and still didn’t manage to see and do everything I had planned. In addition to the grand Spectacle, which you must purchase tickets to attend, you can take advantage of a large number of free activities. These include musical performances, parades, children’s activities and more. You’ll also find dozens of ephemeral bars and restaurants.
If you’re considering a visit to this massive celebration, you still have time to get there before its ends on August 11, 2019. Here are some quick recommendations for your visit…
A Few Facts About the Fête des Vignerons
The Fête des Vignerons started over 200 years ago. Organized by the Confrérie des Vignerons (Brotherhood of Winegrowers), this living tradition began in 1797 as a way to recognize the region’s best winegrowers. Since that time, only 12 festivals have been staged, including the 2019 edition. They only occur every 20-25 years. This association and the festival have evolved over the years. Women were officially allowed to join the Confrérie des Vignerons in 2008, for example. However, the focus of supporting and promoting winegrowers’ from this region has remained over the centuries.
Remarkably, every edition of the Fête des Vignerons has taken place in the same location — the Place du Marché in the city of Vevey. This spectacular location sits on the shores of Lac Léman, surrounded by the Alps. In December 2016, UNESCO recognized this long-standing festival on its list of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.
Focused on the winegrowing regions of Chablais and Lavaux, the Fête des Vignerons 2019 kicked off on July 18 with the coronation of this region’s accomplished winemakers. The Confrérie des Vignerons crowned Jean-Daniel Berthet of Epesses as the “king.” And, for the first time in the festival’s history, a woman received an award: Corinne Buttet of Chardonne.
Throughout the Fête des Vignerons, the Spectacle created and directed by Daniele Finzi Pasca honors these award-winning winegrowers and this region’s tradition of winemaking. Born in Lugano, his past work includes the closing ceremonies for the Turin (2006) and Sochi (2014) Olympics, as well as performances with Cirque du Soleil.
Lasting approximately 2 hours and 45 minutes, the performance is staged in a temporary arena that holds 20,000 people. In the center of the arena, the performers stand on the largest LED floor ever created. In all, about 5,500 volunteer performers dance and sing throughout the show. You’ll also see them mingling throughout the streets of Vevey, adding to the festive atmosphere of the Ville en fête (town in celebration).
Where to Try Swiss Wine at the Festival
Not surprisingly, you have opportunities to sample Swiss wine everywhere you go at the Fête des Vignerons. The festival has 15 official wine caves, all located within a 3-minute walk from the temporary arena. Approximately 50 temporary bars and restaurants have also set-up around town.
A Dégustation with Swiss Wine
For a nice overview of Swiss wine — including, but not limited to those from the canton of Vaud, I recommend heading to the Swiss Wine stand at Les Terrasses de la Confrérie. This national association represents the six wine-growing regions of Switzerland: Geneva, Vaud, Valais, Neuchâtel-Three Lakes, German-speaking Switzerland and Ticino. French and English-speakers at this stand will gladly answer all your questions about Swiss wine.
Where to Eat at the Festival
Along with the many opportunities to sample wine at the Fête des Vignerons, dozens of wonderful temporary and permanent restaurants are serving local dishes. Whether you visit a food truck or the Maison Ticino at the Grand Hôtel du Lac, you will surely find something for all different tastes and budgets.
Restaurant En Terre Vaudoise
For a taste of the regional cuisine from the canton of Vaud, in which the festival takes place, I recommend the Restaurant En Terre Vaudoise. It has created a cozy, colorful space with long wooden tables and comfortable sofas. The menu at this temporary restaurant focuses on local, seasonal products and specialties from the canton.
To start, I recommend a refreshing glass of Chasselas (CHF 5) and some Malakoffs, fried cheese fritters (CHF 3 each). A classic specialty, Saucisson Vaudois, is a pork sausage baked en croûte with lentils (CHF 21). Or perhaps you would prefer a Swiss version of “fish and chips” (CHF 21) made with fish fresh from Lac Léman (a.k.a., Lake Geneva). For dessert, try a Tartelette à la raisinée (CHF 6), which has a smooth brown filling made from a primarily apple-based syrup mixed with cream.
Restaurant En Terre Vaudoise, Jardin du Rivage, Vevey
The Grand Spectacle – The Big Show
The pièce de résistance at the Fête des Vignerons is the Spectacle, the historic show inside the temporary arena with thousands of performers. I’d read that certain moments of the performance were especially moving. Even as a non-Swiss, I noticed a few tears welling in my eyes at one point during the show.
Many people from this region have a personal connection with the festival and especially with this grand performance. My friend Sylvie, who grew up in a neighboring village of Vevey, describes the festival as being part of her DNA. While just a toddler when the festival took place in 1977, she remembers seeing photos of her godparents in their costumes for the event. Decades later she attended the festival in 1999 with her mother and grandmother. Now she’ll soon be sitting in the arena again 20 years later — this time with her own children.
The scenes of this performance pass through the seasons, following a young girl and her grandfather in the vineyards, experiencing the annual cycle of the winemaking process. Since the festival began, the residents of the Chablais and Lavaux regions have maintained either direct or indirect ties with winemaking.
“The work of the vineyard has been part of the rhythm of my childhood: the autumn holidays were set according to the ripening of the grapes, and the children went to help with the harvest.”
“Le travail de la vigne a rythmé une partie de mon enfance: les vacances d’automne étaient fixées en fonction de la maturation des raisins, et les enfants allaient aider à faire les vendanges.”-Sylvie, who grew up in the neighboring village of Vevey
I truly enjoyed watching the Spectacle live in Vevey, especially for the rousing and touching performance of the Ranz de vaches, a song that has been sung at the festival since 1819. This particular scene included typically Swiss symbols, such as a parade of cows and the music of alphorns. With cell phones lit up across the arena and the audience swaying to the powerful music, it was one of the most patriotic displays I’ve experienced during my seven years of Switzerland and a special memory from this once-in-a-generation festival.
Additional info for planning your visit…
The Fête de Vignerons continues through August 11, 2019. Tickets for the Spectacle can be ordered online or purchased onsite at the in Vevey. The full performance of the Spectacle can also be viewed online via Play RTS.
Journées Cantonales (Cantonal Days) – For the first time this year, the Fête de Vignerons features special cantonal days. During these special days, cultural traditions, food and wine specialties, music groups, theater groups or youth events will be presented from the various Swiss cantons. Here are the remaining cantonal days at the festival:
- August 5: Thurgau
- August 6: Aargau
- August 8: Vevey-Riviera-Pays-d’Enhaut
- August 9: Appenzell Ausserrhoden, Appenzell Innerrhoden
- August 10: Neuchâtel
- August 11: Vaud
Fête de Vignerons, Chaussée de la Guinguette 12, 1800 Vevey
+41 (0)21 320 20 19