Spain just keeps knocking it out of the park when it comes to weird and wonderful festivals. You can get into the world’s biggest tomato fight with 30,000 other lunatics at La Tomatina in Buñol. You can watch months’ worth of painstaking and expensive work burn to the ground in a matter of minutes at the arsonist’s dream festival, Las Fallas de Valencia. You and 20,000 others can run through the streets of Pamplona being chased, if not gored, by a stampeding herd of black bulls (fun…).
And then there’s the Spanish wine festival and battle that kicks off in Haro, La Rioja on the 29th of June.
This is not the kind of wine festival where people stand around swirling glasses, quaffing cabernet, scoffing camembert and talking about bouquets and oaky undertones. This is rioja-soaked carnage (which is, of course, the very best kind of carnage). Every year, on the 29th of June, thousands of people descend on the town of Haro in the Rioja region to climb a mountain and fling well over 50,000 litres of Spanish wine over each other.
Now before any of you wine-lovers take a bit of a turn at the thought of all that sweet, sweet red gone to waste, let me reassure you – the wine used in this Bacchanalian battle is no Gran Reserva. It’s the sort of stuff you’d even be reluctant to use in a sauce. Don’t lose any sleep over its loss.
Like any battle, it pays to prepare and to have figured out your strategy going in. With that in mind, here are our top ten tips for having a great time at the world’s biggest wine war…
The uniform for wine-warriors at the Haro battle is all-white clothing with a red scarf. By the end of the fight, your clothes will not be white. They will never be white again, actually, so don’t wear anything expensive and don’t wear anything you’d like to wear again (shoes included). Unless you’re partial to clothes with a blotchy purple hue that smell like a winery.
It’s nice to take part in the whole thing – the procession to the cliffs of Bilibao starts at 7am. If you are late, you might miss out on the wine that’s provided by the council each year. There’s lots of it, but it goes fast – and you don’t want to be in the middle of the battle with no ammo! If you skip the procession, make sure to get to the battleground by 8am so you don’t miss out.
The traditional weapon/vessel of choice is the bota (leather wine bottle) which can be pretty handy for shooting liquid when squeezed. It has some limitations though, namely capacity, precision and power. For a little more of all of those things, and a lot more fun, consider bringing a super-soaker style water gun.
And bring a towel too (ideally dark coloured). There’s loads to do back in the town after the fight, including a bullfight and plenty of parties, and you might not want to be wearing damp purple clothing for the rest of the festivities. This tip is extra important if you plan in sitting in a car on the way back.
It’s a great place to get photos, and you’ll probably want a reminder of your time there – but don’t bring a good camera with you. If you really must, then bring a special waterproof bag to keep it safe in – but it’s much better to bring a disposable splash/waterproof camera with you, so you don’t have to worry about it.
The whole festival goes on for a few days, and there is a lot of wine flowing and a lot of partying happening throughout. The temptation is strong to stay up the night before the fight – but you’ll want your energy for the battle as well as the festivities afterwards. Get some sleep the night before the battle, and be fresh and ready to fight (and party) on the 29th.
Red wine in the mouth is a treat. Red wine in the eyes is not. If you have sensitive eyes, and want to avoid Rioja sting (and be able to see where you’re going), bring some goggles or a mask with you to wear during the fight. This will spare your eyes AND give you an advantage over your wine-blinded foes. Sun Tzu would be proud.
For obvious reasons.
A fair amount of wine is provided by the local authorities for the battle, but thanks to the enthusiasm and sheer numbers of the wine-warriors, it does tend to run out quickly. If you want some reserves (and you will want some reserves), buy cartons of the really cheap stuff at the supermarket and take it with you.
I mean you can if you really want to, but as already stated, this is the wine that isn’t considered good enough for human consumption. It’s probably best to avoid it. If you think you need a little tipple to get you ready for battle, bring some with you (and keep it separate from the cheap stuff). Your head and stomach will thank you the morning after.
Haro wine festival takes place at the end of June every year, with the wine battle taking place on the 29th. Check out our flights to Santander or Zaragoza, which will land you just a couple of hours’ drive from the wine-soaked fun.
- Dee Murray