About This Festival
A sea of white cotton meets tidal waves of red wine, leaving purple t-shirts and their wearers soaked head-to-toe in fermented grape juice--the sign of a successfully culminated Haro Wine Festival. Every year on June 29th, this small town in northern Spain hosts a grape bash and splash to celebrate its numerous wineries attended by thousands of purple partying tourists and wine soaked locals alike. From bullfighting to wine-tasting to shirt soaking, there’s a mood and temperament for everyone at Haro, as long as you like wine.
A Tinted History
For every outrageous Spanish fiesta, there’s a historical explanation of sorts. This battle traces back to a 13th century border dispute between Haro and its neighbours in Miranda de Ebro. The king stepped in and ordered Haro to mark it’s border with crimson banners every Saint Peter’s Day and the first Sunday of each September. The observation of Saint Peter's Day broke down in celebration some 400 years later, in a joyous wine sharing turned into a purple shower. This happy celebration really caught on during the last century and was officially dubbed the Battle of Wine in 1965.
Wine for Breakfast
This party gets started early and the people of Haro don’t mess around. We’re talking 7 AM, sharp! The mayor leads a procession on horseback, followed by a crowd comprised of all (legal) ages, led through the town and up to the Bilibio cliffs. Much like the Running of the Bulls or La Tomatina, the dress is all white with a red scarf. Your colorful transformation does not take long and for this festival you come prepared.
You don’t come empty handed to this wine war, and your weapon is a traditional bota bag, a traditional Spanish leather wine satchel lined with a goat's bladder. Sling it over your shoulder and you have easy vino access all day. The power of the bota is its ability to be squeezed to jettison streams of red wine as far as you can shoot it. You might also see squirt guns, spray misters, and wine-filled balloons. We say go local and use a bota, but not until a ceremonial Mass takes place at the Hermitage of San Felices de Bilibio. Amen and Hail Mary!
The Grapes of Wrath
At the Hermitage, there’s a building group of people, wine and wine inebriated people. After mass the crowd lets loose, flinging the wine around in every direction. The best way to appreciate it is to soak it all in--literally. Your white clothing will transform into a purple that will resemble your lips.
The battle ends around noon, when the crowds are totally drenched, exhausted, and intoxicated. Every year, approximately 50,000 liters of Riojan wine bite the bota bag. Survivors drag their purple pants back to the Plaza de la Paz (“the Square of Peace”) for a not so peaceful offering.
Bullfights with a Twist
Not quite Pamplona's savagery, Haro’s bullfight is actually a heiferfight. The evening bullfights take place in the town’s local ring, leaving the youth to demonstrate their agility and bravery amongst the local heifers. Locals want to make sure they aren’t cow-ardly and go mano-a-mano in the ring with the heifers. It’s not a fight to the death, but to mostly laugh at the youth filled with liquid courage getting trampled by the smaller vaquillas.
Just when you’ve had enough out comes more wine and tapas to finish off your day. Large bonfires go up and the rest of the day is spent eating and drinking in typical Spanish fashion. While the wine battle is just a day, this part of Spain is beautiful and worthy of a extra day or two to either rest up, or nurse your hangover in the countryside.