Red, Red Wine – and lots of it! The Haro Wine Festival
In the La Rioja of northern Spain yet another bizarre Summer Spanish custom is held, this time with a fruity twist. The annual Haro Wine Festival takes place on the 29th June, the day of the patron saint San Pedro. The aim of the game is to have as much fun as possible with local wines, getting involved in wine-drinking competitions and the famous 'Batalla Del Vino' (a.k.a The Battle of Wine).
The latter involves, as you can imagine, using wine as a weapon rather than a source of merriment. We already know it's not like the Spanish to have conventional fun, so it's no surprise to find that the whole point of this event is to wear the wine, rather than simply drink it. Armed festival-goers soak themselves, and anyone around them, in the finest samples of the La Rioja region. Not your average wine-tasting session, that's for sure.
In the Summertime when the weather is fine, Douse yourself in Wine!!
The locals don't hang about in getting started with this festival, the day kicking off at 7:00am. The mayor leads a procession on horseback, attracting crowds of all generations, through the town and up to the Cliffs of Bilibio. Each person is dressed in a white shirt and red scarf, carrying a jug or some other kind of container filled to the brim with red wine (traditionally people use a 'bota', a bottle made of leather). A short mass then takes place at the Hermitage of San Felices de Bilibio, before the real carnage begins.
Paint the Town Red
This is where the thousands of people who have showed up with their galleons of wine really let loose and fling it around in every which way direction. They quite literally paint the town red. There is no mercy; the best way to appreciate this event is to fully embrace the animalistic fun, and don't expect to salvage any clothing at the end of it. The battle ends around noon, when the crowds have just about had enough and are completely drenched. Every year approximately 50, 000 litres of Riojan wine bite the dust.
At this point the survivors, purple and satisfied, drag their sopping wet bodies back to the Plaza de la Paz for further celebrations (in English that's the Square of Peace, although I can't imagine there's anything peaceful about what goes on next). The frivolity continues, and in the evening bullfights take place in the town's local ring.
For every outrageous Spanish event there's a historical explanation, and with this festival it is the conflict between Haro and its neighbours in Miranda de Ebro. The two towns allegedly came to blows in the 13th century over the Bilibio hills that separate them; only in 1906 however did the Battal Del Vino come about to represent this struggle.
The festival is free, but the classic Bring your own Bottle does apply. Bring your own Bota, even. It is a great chance to get know the wines of the region, and to have probably the best fun of your life.