The mother of all festivals. The Fête des Vignerons is a once in a generation event in the Vevey wine region.
Since 1797, the Vevey region celebrates its winegrowers every 20 to 25 years with a huge festival. The Fête des Vignerons is an event of the superlative – one that if missed you might never get another chance to experience. In summer 2019, from July 18th to August 11th, for each performance 20,000 spectators will gather in huge arena built for this occasion on the Grand Place in Vevey. At the wine festival, the whole area joins forces with the world for a month.
The small town of Vevey is surrounded by the vine terraces of Lavaux, which have been conferred UNESCO World Cultural Heritage status. The vines are right by the shores of Lake Geneva, with the Alps towering above them in the background.
The winegrower and his festival. Blaise Duboux is one of the organisers of one of the biggest festivals around.
Vevey is nestled in a landscape that could hardly be more idyllic, with the Lavaux winegrowing area and its steep terraces extending from here across 805 hectares. It has been a UNESCO World Heritage site since 2007. All kinds of wine are grown in this region.
Lavaux. The area that organic winegrower Blaise Duboux calls home. It’s where he and his vineyards have their roots. His livelihood grows from the soil in Lavaux. He describes wine as “Time in a glass”, with each one containing the results of a whole year of his work.
20 years of preparation for the Fête des Vignerons. The wine festival breaks down all boundaries.
Between 18 July and 11 August, 20,000 spectators are expected to pour into the enormous arena in Vevey for each performance. “This festival is all about paying homage to our roots and paying homage to the wine.” The Fête des Vignerons bridges the gap between tradition and modernity. The show has been organised by the Confrérie des Vignerons since 1797, a brotherhood that Blaise Duboux is part of. At the last festival in 1999, he played his part in putting on a gigantic show to guests from all round the world.
The festival is a reflection of how times have changed.
Back in 1999, it was a wholly different era, he says, going on to give a striking example: only three people on the organisation committee had an e-mail address. Today, every single member has several e-mail addresses and communicates entirely by smartphone – which hadn’t even been invented back in those days. The way tickets are sold is also evidence of how things have changed in a mere 20 years. Today, everything is digitised and people buy their tickets online. In 1999, you had to queue up in person.
- 1797 The year in which the Fête des Vignerons was first held. 2,000 people attended the big festival.
- 1889 The event has grown considerably and there is an arena for spectators with a capacity of 12,000. There are five performances, with 1,379 extras taking part.
- 1999 The stage is open to the lake. The arena seats 16,000 people. The show features 5,050 actors and actresses, 670 of whom are on horseback.
- 2019 The festival is even bigger, with an arena holding 20,000 spectators. It resembles a bird’s nest. The show features state-of-the-art technology.
A reflection of society.
Society too was a different place. There was a spirit of optimism in 1999, with people and society being generally open-minded. This manifested itself in an enormous open stage facing the lake, with flat seating areas for spectators. In 2019, this will be completely different and feature an arena resembling a bird’s nest. What people are looking for today is a sense of security.
18 generations and an uncertain future.
What the future holds for Blaise Duboux and his vineyards is written in the stars.
Some things have also changed over the years in Blaise Duboux’s own vineyards in Epesses. The winegrower used to have a lot of conversations with his father among the vines and made changes to the wine. Although his father was more interested in the quantity of wine produced after the war, today Blaise Duboux focuses on quality and now only produces organic wine. This results in 50% less wine, but with a far superior taste.
The vineyards have been family-owned for 500 years. Blaise Duboux is the 17th generation, his three daughters the 18th. He says working according to the principles of biodynamics has brought him even closer to nature. Nature provides the beat, the vineyards set the rhythm. The winegrower's job will change in the future. One day it will be time for his daughters to take over, and if need be to carry on the family tradition with a wholly different concept. Whether they are ready for it, neither they themselves nor Blaise Duboux know right now.