As Jancis mentioned in her introduction to Dennis Lapuyade’s excellent Vevey for wine lovers published yesterday, I was lucky enough to witness the Fête des Vignerons on Sunday, courtesy of Swiss Wine, sitting next to Swiss co-author of Wine Grapes José Vouillamoz.
Dennis describes the extravagance of the event, which was first staged in 1797, and I have tried to convey something of this in the pictures below.
The sheer scale was astonishing, the display mesmerising for the entire two and a half hours under the blistering sun:
- a temporary 20,000-seater stadium in the middle of Vevey’s market square weighing 900 tonnes and costing €100 million
- an 800m2 LED screen as part of the floor of the stage (€8 million) – even more amazing at night performances, apparently
- 5,700 actors/participants – all volunteers and all paying for their own costumes
- 900 singers
- 1 million visitors
- an estimated 300,000–500,000 bottles of wine consumed in Vevey over the course of the 25 days.
The show is a medley of highly costumed singing and dancing that follows a year in the vines – albeit rather loosely.
The scene entitled ‘We have the right to fish’, with enormous shiny replica fish held aloft on stakes, is apparently just a nod to the proximity of the lake.
Then there’s a wedding, several rounds of soldiers, some very cute brown goats that behave remarkably well and a parade of alpine cattle (carefully steered away from the LED screen) accompanied by booming alpine horns and a melancholy, almost liturgical song of the Armaillis, the men who lead their cows from valley to valley.
The high point of the drama is the coronation of the best vigneron-tâcherons, the viticulturists who work in the vineyard, often overseeing the vines of others, and whose endeavours are inspected and scored three times a year, in a uniquely Swiss way. The focus is squarely on the vineyards not on the wines.
Perhaps I should have said that it’s all in French but to be perfectly honest it doesn’t really matter. My French is pretty good and although I could make out the occasional narrative passage between the songs, I didn’t have a clue about the lyrics, and nor did José most of the time.
What is totally captivating from start to finish is the colour, the movement, and the music. This penultimate picture shows some of the choristers.
The last performance is next Sunday 11 August. If you miss it, you’ll have to wait until 2039.
And a stone's throw from the arena and the crowds, the tranquillity of the lake.