Festival – Switzerland

Swiss Festival- Fêtes des Vignerons de Vevey

“This is not only a wine festival. For the Swiss it represents the celebration of 2 rural communities: the wine growers and the farmers living in the mountains and producing cheese. Usually the show is very well balanced and gives the same importance and visibility to wine growers from the lake side region and the “armaillis” coming from the “Fribourg” state. Among traditional families living in both regions it is not rare to have 2 to 3 generations taking part to the show as every participant is non-professional.

Traditionally, the emotion is at its peak when the “armaillis” are singing the “Ranz des vaches.” This song is well known by all the Swiss and it is a kind of regional hymn. In the old days when Swiss people used to be mercenary soldiers in the various European courts, it was considered as a national hymn. The song is written in a local dialect and the typical alphorn instruments are supporting the melody.” –Gino


Gino is a client and family friend of my dad’s and told me about this wine festival, which interestingly enough takes place roughly every generation. It is the world’s greatest wine festival and has taken place in the years 1905, 1927, 1955, 1977, and 1999 (the most recent festival to occur). While Gino is Italian, he was born and educated in the French speaking part of Switzerland, which is why he’s so familiar with the festival. However, he admits that he doesn’t have the same emotional ties to the event as the Swiss do. He has a few memories here and there of the event in the years 1977 and 1999. Although he wasn’t in the middle of the festival during 1977, he followed the events on TV and vividly remembers the main performance, “Lyoba.” In 1999, he was living right in the middle of the wine producing region. Almost the entire village was involved in the event. As an outsider of Italian origin, Gino was impressed with the dedication and efforts put forth by the non-professional actors who put together a great performance. The preparation went on for more than a year and is comparable to the famous preparation of the Samba School in Rio de Janeiro.

I found an article about this event on the New York Times website, “Travel Advisory; Swiss Winemakers Prepare to Party,” by Christopher Hall and published in December 27, 1998. It gives a rundown of the festival’s activities. It also provides basic statistics of the event’s normal turnout. Over 450,000 visitors celebrate in the town of Vevey (population 70,000) near the eastern end of Lake Geneva. The festival that year (1999) was organized by the Confrerie des Vignerons, a trade guild created back in the 17th century to promote the wine industry in the two wine regions of Lavaux and Chablais. The guild’s job was to build an arena fit for 16,000 people in Vevey’s Market Square, which faces the snowcapped French Alps. The main event is usually a performance. That year, 4600 actors, singers, and artists (mostly townspeople, not professionals) put together a performance, which presented myths, folklore, and contemporary aspects of winemaking. Other highlights included original live performances by Orchestre de la Suisse Romande and the Orchestre de Chambre de Lausanne. Like any other national festival, Fêtes des Vignerons de Vevey provides music, food and dancing for approximately two weeks (the duration of the festival). The festival closes with a crowning of the region’s best vintners.

I had never heard of this festival before. I was curious to find out whether or not cities in the States hold versions of this festival. After doing some research, I learned that the small town of Vevay (population 1735) in Switzerland County, Indiana along the Ohio River celebrates a version of Fêtes des Vignerons de Vevey. Vevay holds the Swiss Wine Festival every year usually on the last weekend of August. Typical activities include amusement rides, pageants, car shows, cheerleading competitions, musical performances, famous grape stomping, and a showcase of the town’s Beer and Wine Gardens. People from all over Switzerland County partake in this celebration. This would be an example of how American culture and customs have been incorporated into the festival. From the article on Wikipedia, it was difficult to gauge how touristy this event is. However, Gino had mentioned that the celebration in Switzerland pays homage to wine and cheese producers. Evidently, the festival in Indiana does not focus as much on this aspect of the original festival, but still provides participants with an enjoyable Swiss experience.

Annotation: Hall, Christopher. “TRAVEL ADVISORY; Swiss Winemakers Prepare to Party.” New York Times 27 Dec. 1998. 24 Apr. 2008 <http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9A0DE0D8123CF934A15751C1A96E958260