If you liked La Tomatina, you’ll love the messy, vino-fueled fiesta that is the Haro Wine Battle
NEED TO KNOW
LOCATION Haro Wine Battle takes place in the village of Riscos de Bilibio, which is 4 miles (6 km) north of Haro, in La Rioja in northern Spain
WHEN The fun takes place on June 29 each year
VISITORS PER YEAR 5,000
The tomato-throwing festival of La Tomatina seems to offer an unparalleled opportunity for a chaotic, bizarre adrenalin release – until you hear about Haro’s Wine Battle, that is. This equally anarchic, lesser-known event, which takes place in northern Spain earlier in the summer and involves throwing red wine, not tomatoes, all over the place, certainly gives the over-hyped food fight a run for its money.
Unlike the Tomatina, which is a relatively recent invention with no tradition behind it, the Haro Wine Battle has a long and interesting history. According to a royal proclamation of 1290, the small wine- producing town of Haro had to reassert, annually, its right of possession over the vineyards where the battle now takes place, against a claim by the nearby town of Miranda del Ebro. The event began as a low-key bounds-beating ceremony that involved hoisting a flag and holding Mass, but in 1906, participants decided to liven proceedings up by “baptizing” each other with wine. It wasn’t long before this ritual became a messy wine battle that overshadowed the event’s more sober formalities.
Today, the pattern of the battle is well established.
It begins with a procession of some 5,000 people, wearing white T-shirts and clutching pieces of religious paraphernalia, including crucifixes and bibles, from Haro to the site of an isolated chapel, where a flag is hoisted and a Mass said. Then battle commences, and pristine T-shirts soon turn a deep shade of purple as over 20,000 liters of wine are thrown around. Anyone within range is a fair target – including photographers and television camera crews, whose equipment is covered in protective plastic – and any delivery system is permitted. Water pistols, botas (leather drinking bottles), plastic bottles, and buckets are the common weapons of war, but experienced participants who really mean business come equipped with ultra-modern industrial crop-sprayers fed by tanks on their backs.
When supplies of ammunition have been exhausted, the berry-colored crowd troops down the hill to breakfast on snails and red wine.
They then return in procession to Haro, drying off in the sunshine on the way, where they continue the festivities with singing, dancing, fireworks, bullfights, and, of course, more drinking.
FORGET LA TOMATINA?
THE BUILD-UP La Tomatina, the tomato- throwing free-for-all that is held in Buñol, near Valencia, every August, has become a magnet for revelers, who come dressed in disposable clothes and spend an exhilarating hour pelting each other with overripe fruit.
THE LETDOWN La Tomatina may have started as a local affair, but thanks to media hype it has become swamped by outsiders, including many foreigners. There is only so much room in the narrow streets of town, and not everyone gets their hands on the tomatoes before they’ve been reduced to pulp by repeated throwing. Surprisingly, tomatoes can be very painful projectiles and some people in the throng can get vicious.
GOING ANYWAY? The event takes place on the morning of the last Wednesday in August.
Before you turn up, make sure you have memorized the rules: don’t take bottles or other potentially dangerous objects with you; don’t tear anyone else’s T-shirt; squash every tomato before you throw it, so it isn’t too hard; don’t get in the way of the tomato- bearing lorries; and stop throwing when you hear the signal to end the fight.
Getting There and Around
The nearest international airports to Haro are at Vitoria, 27 miles (44 km) to the northeast, and Bilbao, 57 miles (91 km) to the north. Logroño, 26 miles (42 km) to the southeast, has a domestic airport. Haro is just off the A68 motorway, and has bus and rail connections with Bilbao, Zaragoza and Barcelona.
Where to Eat
Riojan cuisine is very varied and makes great use of fresh fruit and vegetables. A good place to eat is La Cueva de Doña Isabela, which is in a restored 17th-century building.
Where to Stay
Stay at the charming Los Agustinos in Haro.
Daytime Temperature 81°F (27°C) in late June.
Budget per Day for Two US$300 including food, lodging, and transportation.