If you thought La Tomatina (the tomato throwing festival) in Bunol, Spain sounded like a blast, Haro might have them beat. Over the three days surrounding June 29th (in honor of St. Peter’s day), Haro throws a huge, mad party called La Batalla del Vino, or, “Battle of Wine.” While you may have never heard of the small town of Haro, it’s a hugely important wine center in Rioja, as it contains a whopping 40% of the region’s vineyards. Clearly, the Spaniards of Haro take great pride in their wine. And the fact that the town mayor endorses encouraging complete strangers to douse each other in Haro’s wines for days on end and party every night is something we here at Wine.Life.Style can get behind.
The history of this only-in-Spain tradition dates back to a 13th century border dispute between Haro and its neighbor, Miranda de Ebro. The king was called in, and he ordered Haro to demarcate its border with crimson banners every Saint Peter’s Day and the first Sunday of each September. At some point, this border ritual eventually turned friendly. Sharing of wine was soon the celebrated custom, which eventually (and no one quite knows how) turned into a wine soaking festival. (Although we can likely assume it had something to do with some overly drunken Spaniards.) The event was officially coined Battle of Wine in 1965.
Since it’s too late for any of us to make it this year, here’s an overview of what you’ll be missing out on (this year):
The whole shebang begins at 7 a.m., when Haro’s mayor leads a procession on horseback to the Bilibio cliffs where a mass is celebrated at the Hermitage of San Felices de Bilibio. After the mass is when the free-for-all begins. Participants begin the wine shoot out with a bota bag, a traditional Spanish leather wine satchel – yes, an ancient wine roadie that is also able to spray red wine long distances. Squirt guns, jugs, spray misters, or wine-filled balloons are also handy for a good dousing.
Around noon, the battle ends (after about 50,000 liters of Riojan wine are squelched) and the drenched and purple and intoxicated throngs walk over to the Plaza de la Paz (“the Square of Peace”) to continue the party and to take in the heiferfight. Not quite a bullfight, a heiferfight is more like drunk youngsters and little bulls taunting each other in the ring for a while.
As day becomes dusks, the bonfires are lit and out comes more wine, plenty of tapas, and local residents of all ages who’ve gathered on the cobblestone streets to keep the party going.
Hecho en España!