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The world’s most extravagant wine event

Time:2019-11-17 04:53wine - Red wine life health Click:

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The town of Vevey is surrounded by terraced vineyards and turquoise water on Lake Geneva (Credit: Credit: Anna Muckerman)

The small Swiss town of Vevey is surrounded by terraced vineyards and turquoise water on Lake Geneva (Credit: Anna Muckerman)

A party for the ages

Sublimely located on Lake Geneva’s north-eastern shore overlooking the Alps, the small Swiss town of Vevey is surrounded by terraced vineyards and turquoise water. But once every 20 to 25 years, hundreds of thousands of people descend on this tranquil, 19,000-person town on the Swiss Riviera as it transforms into a bacchanalian world.

Known as the Fête des Vignerons (“The Winegrowers’ Festival”), this Unesco-designated celebration dates to 1797 and only takes place once a generation. Locals don elaborate costumes and open underground wine vaults for late-night revelry, while chirpy flautists and drummers march down cobblestone streets and a grandiose open-air theatrical production takes over the market square. For several weeks, people of all ages and backgrounds dance, sing and drink – all for the sake of promoting a tradition that many don’t associate with Switzerland: winemaking.

Why the long interval between parties? It’s said that locals celebrate with such fervour that it takes at least 10 years to recover, and another 10 years to plan. This summer’s extravaganza – which took place from 18 July to 11 August – was only the 12th edition of what some call the world’s largest wine event. It cost 100m Swiss francs (£78.25m) to organise and attracted a million people.

The Fête des Vignerons is a festival put on no more than five times a century (Credit: Credit: Anna Muckerman)

The Fête des Vignerons is a winegrower’s festival organised no more than five times a century (Credit: Anna Muckerman)

The winegrower kings

The Fête des Vignerons is a winegrower’s festival – not wine festival – organised no more than five times a century by the Confrérie des Vignerons (Brotherhood of Winegrowers), an association that encourages and promotes vine production in the region. The festival honours the living viticultural traditions of the acclaimed Chablais and Unesco-listed Lavaux regions surrounding Vevey, whose 830 hectares of terraced vineyards and winemaking families have been producing some of the world’s best Chasselas since the Middle Ages.

On the first day of the festival, the best winegrowers (vignerons-tacherons) are awarded grapevine-inspired crowns for their work in the vineyards (not necessarily for the wines they produce) in a lavish coronation ceremony held in a specially built arena that’s redesigned and rebuilt for each Fête. This year’s arena could hold 20,000 spectators – a seat for every Vevey resident.

To judge the winners, experts appointed by the Confrérie meticulously evaluate 270 hectares of vineyards surrounding Vevey between Pully and Villeneuve, as well as vineyards from Yvorne to Lavey in the Rhône Valley three times a year. The experts grade the tidiness of winemakers’ vineyards and the health of their grapes, among other criteria. The group established the Fête in 1797 to encourage winegrowers to take better care of their vines. By all accounts, it’s worked marvellously. 

“It’s better than the Olympics because I’m king for the next 20 years,” Jean-Daniel Berthet, a winegrower at Luc Massy Vins, reportedly told his boss after his coronation in 2019.

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