The Fête des Vignerons – Vevey’s once-in-a-generation winegrowers’ festival – ended on Sunday in spectacular style. In all, 355,000 tickets were snapped up and one million people visited the lakeside town over the three weeks. Yet the CHF100 million ($102 million) event may end with a deficit.
“Don’t wait another 20 years to celebrate,” Daniele Finzi Pasca, the festival’s artistic director, told the 20,000 spectators during the final show in Vevey’s market square on Sunday.
The famous ‘Ranz des vaches’, an Alpine cowherd's song, accompanied by music, cowbells, and the applause and tears of volunteers and spectators, was an emotional send-off for the 12th edition.
"I cried all day," one participant declared.
Critics seem to concur that this year’s festival – a four-times a century event that celebrates the viticulture traditions of the Lavaux and Chablais wine regions – has been an artistic success. The festival, which first started in 1797, attracted a record number of spectators and fans.
Over 25 days, more than one million visitors flocked to the small lakeside town in western Switzerland to soak up the festive atmosphere. Out of 20 planned shows, eighteen took place according to schedule. Four shows had to be postponed or interrupted due to storms. A total of 355,000 tickets were sold out of the 420,000 available.
The evening shows were extremely popular (94% attendance rate). "This is well beyond our expectations," said François Margot, Abbé President of the Confrérie, the private winemakers’ guild that organized the festival. But the day-time shows, intended to allow spectators from far away to make the round trip, only had a 72.5% attendance rate, well below expectations.
The 2.5-hour performances were also followed by some 400,000 television viewers on Swiss public television, RTS. These figures do not include viewers of TV 5 Monde.
The organisers said that 70% of spectators travelled to Vevey by public transport (train, bus or boat) and spectators left behind 36% less waste than 20 years ago.$
On the final day, hundreds of people queued outside the arena attempting to secure, in vain, last-minute tickets. Precise figures are not yet available, but for the entire festival, an estimated 65,000 tickets went unsold. Consequently, it is almost certain that the $100 million festival budget will not be covered.
Canton Vaud and the town of Vevey might benefit financially from the festival, but there is no agreement in place for them to meet any financial shortfall by the winegrowers’ guild.
Frédéric Hohl, the festival’s executive director, said a couple of weeks were needed to get a clearer picture of the financial situation.
"We don't have all the financial data: that of related products (10% of the budget), discounts on drinks, the exact number of tickets sold which takes account of invitations and rescheduled performances; it's a bit confused,” he said.
Despite these financial concerns, the benefits for local tourism are likely to be huge. Over 1,000 journalists and photographers were accredited for the festival – half from abroad, including the New York Times, CNN, The Guardian, BBC and TF1.
Adapted from French by Simon Bradley