La Batalla del Vino – the battle of the wine – takes place on St Peter’s Day on 29 June every year in Haro, 95km south of Bilbao. Haro is in the middle of the region of Rioja, which is home to 14,000 vineyards. A wine museum and shop, Museo del Vino Portal de la Rioja, is on the northern outskirts of the town.
While the origins of the festival are somewhat unclear, legend has it that the festival evolved from an argument about the border between Haro and the neighbouring town of Miranda de Ebro in the early 13th century. In 1237, a judge ruled that Haro officials must mark the town’s boundary with purple banners every year on St Peter’s Day. In 1710, after a ceremony to mark the town’s border, locals started throwing wine at one another.
Today the tradition has evolved into a festival celebrated by much of the town’s 11,500 population, along with visitors from all over the world. On the night of 28 June, an outdoor concert takes place on a stage in the town square and impromptu street entertainers perform.
At 7am on 29 June Haro’s mayor rides a horse 7km to the Hermitage of San Felices de Bilibio on a hill overlooking the town. A parade of revellers follow the mayor on foot – or on buses if they’re too hungover from the night before. Revellers are encouraged to wear white for maximum impact, as well as a traditional red scarf and in some cases, goggles! The mayor hoists a flag, and following a brief mass, the battle begins – and 130,000 litres of red wine is hurled from water pistols, buckets, hose pipes, even barrels till around noon.
Party-goers enjoy barbecues and picnics on the cliffs of Bilibio around the Hermitage, while festivities kick off in Plaza de la Paz back in the centre of town. Locals also chase bulls in Plaza de Toros, the bullring in the south of the town. While the bull run isn’t for everyone, it’s worth noting that female heifers are used as they’re less dangerous than males, and they’re not killed.
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