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Winegrowers’ celebration A journey back in time at the Fête des Vignerons

This is how the once-in-a-generation Fête des Vignerons (Winegrowers’ Festival), held in the small Lake Geneva town of Vevey, has looked in the past. The latest edition is taking place this summer.

The colourful outdoor festivalexternal link, which has coveted UNESCO status, celebrates the viticultural traditions of the Lavaux and Chablais regions near Lake Geneva.

The origins of the festival date back to the 17th-18th centuries when the local winegrowers’ guild, the Confrérie des Vigneronsexternal link, organised parades in Vevey after each annual meeting to celebrate wine culture and the work of the best vineyard workers.

At the time, canton Vaud was under Bernese rule – a period from 1536-1798 characterised by Protestant austerity – and popular festivals were rare. The unusual procession of local participants thus attracted growing attention in the region and from further afield.

Around 1770, the Confrérie, influenced by the ideas of the Enlightenment, decided to reward the most deserving local winegrowers. In 1797, the decision was taken to transform the procession into a larger event - the Fête des Vignerons – with a stage on Vevey’s market square for 2,000 spectators, who paid to watch the costumed procession recreating the four seasons and a crowning ceremony.

Since then, the pageant has taken place roughly every 20 years and grown in importance. It has also evolved, introducing new elements glorifying the nation and tradition, as well as pagan divinities like Bacchus, the Roman god of wine. Musicians and dancers rub shoulders with cow herders, who symbolise the link between the lakeside wine-growing town and the surrounding mountain regions. The famous Ranz des Vaches – the song to call the herds home – is a major highlight at each edition.

In 1889, the popular festival expanded with a stage for 12,000 people. This year, a modern 20,000-seat arena has been built for the two-hour show staged by Daniele Finzi Pasca, director of the Sochi and Turin Olympic ceremonies. Despite the huge logistics and professional expertise needed to organise the CHF100 million private event, expected to attract one million visitors, almost all participants are local volunteers, and many of the themes are identical to those first celebrated over 200 years ago.

Meanwhile, the work of the Confrérie continues. Three times a year, expert winegrowers appointed by the guild visit around 100 selected vineyards to evaluate the quality of their work. The results are presented every three years and the best winegrowers are honoured at a banquet attended by their peers.  

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