Batalla del Vino and Wine Fight Battle Stories
The tiny town of Haro is a peaceful place, nestled in amongst the grape vines in the heart of Spanish Basque country. About a six hour drive from Barcelona, Haro is the kind of town which is postcard pretty – old narrow streets lined with brightly coloured buildings, cast iron balconies, locals who give you the side eye but will still type in wifi passwords to your phone for you when you repeatedly screw it up.
Surrounded by vineyards, most likely with the entire local economy propped up by wine production, it’s no surprise that red wine runs through the veins of the locals here, and, for one weekend every year, it runs through the streets as well. The annual Haro Wine Festival is a hedonistic celebration of wine, grapes, people and drinking. Obviously those are all things that most normal people can thoroughly get behind, and the resulting fiesta is not a celebration to be missed.
The street party starts on the Saturday night and is when most of the consumption takes place. Everywhere is busy but the place to be is the town square where they set up a stage and language barriers are breached by the worldwide love of classic songs ranging from Metallica, to Destiny’s Child, to the medley from Grease. The best word to describe the vibes would be – pardon the colourful language – really fucking merry; everyone is on the same level and no one is not partying. My advice for surviving the night for as long as the locals do (every Spaniard and his granddad parties until the break of dawn) is to not just rely on pre-gaming; bring some cash to buy drinks from the bars which line the piazza or else take something which is going to keep you happy for as long as possible. It’s worth it to dance with seventy year olds at 4 a.m., and also to still have happy juice pumping through your veins when you head off to the wine fight at the crack of dawn.
The Batalla de Vino is the main attraction of the Haro Wine Festival. It gets going at 7 a.m. and it’s worth it to get there early even if you think it’s gonna kill you. Throw back some waters, or even better a few beers, put on your white glad rags (don’t wear anything that you want to keep nice, and don’t worry about looking pretty either, it’s a battle for god’s sake) and head up the hill to the festivities. Buses run for the first part of the road, with seats wisely covered in black rubbish bags, which gives you some idea of just how messy everyone gets. Unfortunately there’s nowhere for buses to turn around up where the wine fight actually takes place, so everyone has to get off the bus and walk the last kilometre. This is where still being drunk helps quite a lot for keeping up morale/staying pumped instead of just feeling tired and puffed. It’s a gravel road and gets really muddy too, so make sure that you haven’t lost your shoes the night before, you crazy bastards.
The one good thing about the walk is that as you go it’s handy to pick up the various water guns and other bits and pieces that past battlers have scattered on the side of the road. The loot that I was most proud of was a pair of clear goggles like they used to make us wear in the science lab at school. Surprisingly despite this they made me feel kind of badass. Goggles are a good idea because getting red wine in your eyes stings like a bitch. The downside is that you won’t be able to see a thing. Just go with it. I actually had a local man come up to me and tell me to take them off – he said I didn’t need them. I thought he was just helpfully telling me that I looked like a dick (not so badass after all) but really all he wanted was for me to take them off so that I would be at my weakest when he poured an entire bucket of wine over my head. And so the battle begins.
I’m not actually sure whether a wine battle is the best thing to call it. It’s more of a wine slaughter. However prepared you think you will be with your cardboard cartons of wine and tiny water guns, trust me, it will not be enough. The locals have been doing this every year of their lives – they know how to get shit done. Groups of old men will close in on you from all sides so that there’s no getting away before pouring wine over your head or slapping it on with paintbrushes. For them it’s all business and if you try to get them back with your own pitiful supplies of wine, they just get angry and waste you harder. It’s best just to let it happen and laugh at how chaotic everything is or at how pathetic you are.
Prepare yourself for absolute carnage, for stickiness, for mud, for tears, for seriously pondering whether all the wine is making you drunk by osmosis. Your skin and hair will be dyed purple and you will smell slightly of vinegar for the next few days. But it’s worth it to feel a part of the madness, the thronging purple crowds. This is an ancient festival which is a fixture in the local peoples’ lives, and you are their guest. The best thing about the Wine Festival is that it is still mostly made up of locals; but it’s growing every year. Appreciate that it may never be this unique and special ever again.
If you would like to read more about this Festival from a customers perspective check out the websites below:
Finally, a few last minute tips:
- Wear white, and a red scarf if you can find one. The festival has a uniform and you’ll look like an idiot if you’re not wearing it.
- Wear shoes with grip that you won’t be sad to throw out.
- Get up early and leave slightly early too, to enjoy showering while there is still hot water and not too much of a line. You won’t regret this.
- Take time to explore Haro during the day. It’s stupid to come and invade their festival without actually appreciating the town. Plus, it’s beautiful and there are amazing restaurants. Make the most of it.
- Squeal like a baby. You came to a wine fight. It’s a fight with wine. Don’t be a wet blanket.
- Bring any sort of camera/device which isn’t going to survive the wine. For obvious reasons. You will be surprised how many people did this!
San Vino. aka The Wine Fight. aka Batalla de Vino. (via The Australian Times)
When you’ve been “round these parts” for a while you get a little desensitised to the zaniness of the Spanish street festival. The first time you roll into La Tomatina, for example, the whole concept of the thing just clean blows your mind! I mean, they do what? With tomatoes? In the village streets? That many? And then it happens and it surpasses your expectations and you become some kind of rambling, ranting, raving, babbling lunatic for the days after talking about that time you threw the tomato, haha, and how someone grabbed you and licked the pulp out of your ears, and, oh man, it was so CRAZY!
And then you do it again, and it’s still crazy, but you’re like, well, we’ve sort of done this before. And you have a good time, and you rave about it forever after, but it’s not quite like the first time. Y’know?
The third time is pragmatic. The third time is all about preparing yourself, and wearing the practical shoes, and making a plan of attack, and getting in, getting your kicks, and getting out. You know what you want, you know how to get it, like a cougar on a cruise liner.
Fourth time, well, you might sit this one out. Enjoy the ambience, but just sit out the fight part. ‘Cause, y’know, yawn.
Same goes for the Running of the Bulls. You’ll never do anything as good as your first, second and third year there. Fourth? Anyone know what the surf is like? Fifth you turn vegan and so on.
But there is one festival that we go to that bucks out of that trend. It’s a festival so FUN that we all look forward to it year in, year out. Some of us even have our calendars set to “dates until” this festival, scratching the passing days as scores on our tepee walls. It’s partially because not many tourists go there yet, partially because the locals are just so welcoming (the two or intrinsically linked, btw). It’s also because the concept is just so, WOW! Hottdamn it’s a good concept.
San Vino, aka the Wine Fight, aka la batalla de vino de Haro.
Heard about it? Oriental whispers in hostel common areas, an obscene message scratched in the back of a bathroom stall, or your crazy cousin may have appropriated your attention at a backyard BBQ and chewed your ear off about this festival, man. Oh man. This festival.
The long and the short of it goes down in a village, in La Rioja – the premier red wine producing region, in my opinion, in the world. There’s a night where we party so hard in the village itself. Locals will grab us and ask what we’re doing there, and we’ll say, “the same thing as you, hombre”, and they’ll love us and we’ll party even harder by the minuto. Some of us will party all night, others will go back to our camp and have short, beautiful, sleeps. When the sun’s on the up we’ll make our way up a mountain. Half way up the mountain is a vineyard and all the way up is a chapel with the best views a chapel has ever had. If you get there early enough you go up the chapel and see the village folk performing rituals with wine. You look over the plains and go, “wow, man, I’m in Spain. I’m the luckiest dude/babe/chick/legend in the whole world. Pinch me! Just pinch me!”
Then you make your way down to the vineyard in the middle of the mountain and the wine fight begins. Wine, red wine, is produced by the gallon and liberally thrown on all and sundry. We’ll all pickle ourselves and each other in the wine that the villagers deem is unworthy for their fine palates. The wine fight is, quite literally, a fight with wine. A batalla de vino, in Haro.
It is so much fun that it never gets stale. Like the wines we drown each other in it is both wonderful the first time you enjoy it and fantastic every time you return. If we could attend a wine fight a week we would. Dionysius willing, we’ll see you there.
By Wade Gravy
Courtesy of The Australian Times
The World’s Messiest Festivals (via CNN.com)
Still, there are several other, less-known festivals dedicated to the art of food-throwing. On June 29, thousands of winos gather in Haro, Spain, a small town in the Rioja region, to drench each other in reserve stocks of the area’s signature vino. The event is known as La Batalla del Vino, or the Wine Fight.
According to the organizers, the festival dates back to the 13th century, and started as a land dispute that ended in some upended wine. To commemorate that first battle, attendees come armed with buckets, water pistols, wine skins, and various other receptacles to get things flowing.
Toby Paramor has been organizing tours through Stoke Travel for four years. He notes that clean-up isn’t always straight forward.
“You smell like wine for days,” he says. Any clothes you bring to the event will be stained eggplant by the end, so it’s best to consider anything worn on the day disposable.
By Daisy Carrington
Excerpt Courtesy of CNN.com