What Is The Wine Fight?
Alternatively known as the Batalla de Vino de Haro, or San Vino, the Wine Fight is, quite simply, what the name suggests – a battle, with wine. Red wine, to be precise, from Spain’s La Rioja winemaking regions, one of the world’s finest. It’s also the first party of Stoke’s summer schedule, a somewhat underground Spanish fiesta, and a great excuse to get off the beaten tourist trail and into Spain’s wine country. A great festivals for travel junkies, wine lovers and party animals alike.
A very brief history of the wine fight
Like all ancient histories, and especially those soaked in wine, the story of the Wine Fight isn’t entirely clear. On one hand, they say the Wine Fight started when a land dispute between Haro, the village that hosts the battle, and neighbouring Miranda de Ebro was solved by marking the border between the two towns with purple flags. After a while the plentiful grapes in the region were used to stain the flags and somewhere along the line the fun-loving locals started throwing the grape juice at each other. Some say that the Wine Fight was borne out of a popular pilgrimage to the Cliffs of Bilbio, where the fight is held, that somehow devolved into pilgrims being baptised in wine. However it started, we glad that those first vino throwers had such a good idea. For a more detailed history of the wine fight, splash your way over here.
High quality red wine has been produced in the region since ancient times, predating the Romans, and Stoke Travel has been visiting this party for over a decade. The rest of the history includes you, soaked in red wine, having the time of your life.
Wine Fight itinerary
The day before the Wine Fight we have a cheese and wine fair, and the night before there’s a huge party in the town square, but you can read all about that here. What we’re focused on is the big day, the 29th of June. The Wine Fight starts around 8am, up the hill outside Haro, surrounded by the vineyards of La Rioja, underneath the Cliffs de Bilbio. To get there we join the procession of fighters walking up the hill, or try and grab a ride with one of the party tractors that ferries gangs of wine warriors up the scenic road. As we approach the mountainside you’ll begin to see rivulets of red wine running down the mountain, and as soon as you’re within range everybody will indiscriminately start showering you with red wine, some coming from the back of trucks brought up there just to supply wine for the fight, some from casks or bottles, some carted up in buckets and some preloaded into water guns. From there all you have to do is keep on soaking and being soaked in red wine, have a great time, dance to the bands that play throughout and if you’re feeling frisky take a hike up the cliffs to the small hermitage at the top and the unbeatable views across La Rioja.
Once the battle is done we make our way back down the hill and to the river and pool at the campsite, where we wash away the wine, eat and drink some more, and then join the townsfolk in the city centre, where the procession continues towards the bullring and foolhardy youths are chased by baby bulls. Don’t worry, none are harmed in this display of stupid bravery. No bulls, we mean. Plenty of people are harmed. That night there’s another party in the town square, this time with the locals running around carrying a metal bull statue that shoots fireworks from its horns.
Why fight with wine?
Because it just so happens that wine is the one things this part of the world has in surplus. There is wine everywhere in La Rioja and Haro is the capital of the region’s bodegas. Just walking around the town we are spoiled for choice in wines, with seemingly every storefront offering a great variety of outstanding wines at very good prices. Even if fighting with wine isn’t necessarily your style, just walking around and trying different wines and tasting the food on offer is one of the nicest things you can do.
And to the wine lovers out there who are outraged at this apparent waste of good wine, don’t you worry – this is the wine that was never of high enough quality to make the bottle. It’s the waste wine, and when you see it running down the hills and back into the vineyards it’s easy to imagine that this sacrifice of poor quality wine is why the region generally yields such delicious vino tintos.