The tiny town of Haro is a peaceful place, nestled in amongst the grapevines in the heart of Spanish Basque country. About a six hour drive from Barcelona, Haro is the kind of town which is postcard pretty – old narrow streets lined with brightly coloured buildings, cast iron balconies, locals who give you the side eye but will still type in wifi passwords to your phone for you when you repeatedly screw it up.
Surrounded by vineyards, most likely with the entire local economy propped up by wine production, it’s no surprise that red wine runs through the veins of the locals here, and, for one weekend every year, it runs through the streets as well. The annual Haro Wine Festival is a hedonistic celebration of wine, grapes, people and drinking. Obviously those are all things that most normal people can thoroughly get behind, and the resulting fiesta is not a celebration to be missed.
The street party starts on the Saturday night and is when most of the consumption takes place. Everywhere is busy but the place to be is the town square where they set up a stage and language barriers are breached by the worldwide love of classic songs ranging from Metallica, to Destiny’s Child, to the medley from Grease. The best word to describe the vibes would be – pardon the colourful language – really fucking merry; everyone is on the same level and no one is not partying. My advice for surviving the night for as long as the locals do (every Spaniard and his granddad parties until the break of dawn) is to not just rely on pre-gaming; bring some cash to buy drinks from the bars which line the piazza or else take something which is going to keep you happy for as long as possible. It’s worth it to dance with seventy year olds at 4 a.m., and also to still have happy juice pumping through your veins when you head off to the wine fight at the crack of dawn.
The Batalla de Vino is the main attraction of the Haro Wine Festival. It gets going at 7am and it’s worth it to get there early even if you think it’s gonna kill you. Throw back some waters, or even better a few beers, put on your white glad rags (don’t wear anything that you want to keep nice, and don’t worry about looking pretty either, it’s a battle for god’s sake) and head up the hill to the festivities. Buses run for the first part of the road, with seats wisely covered in black rubbish bags, which gives you some idea of just how messy everyone gets. Unfortunately there’s nowhere for buses to turn around up where the wine fight actually takes place, so everyone has to get off the bus and walk the last kilometre. This is where still being drunk helps quite a lot for keeping up morale/staying pumped instead of just feeling tired and puffed. It’s a gravel road and gets really muddy too, so make sure that you haven’t lost your shoes the night before, you crazy bastards.
The one good thing about the walk is that as you go it’s handy to pick up the various water guns and other bits and pieces that past battlers have scattered on the side of the road. The loot that I was most proud of was a pair of clear goggles like they used to make us wear in the science lab at school. Surprisingly despite this they made me feel kind of badass. Goggles are a good idea because getting red wine in your eyes stings like a bitch. The downside is that you won’t be able to see a thing. Just go with it. I actually had a local man come up to me and tell me to take them off – he said I didn’t need them. I thought he was just helpfully telling me that I looked like a dick (not so badass after all) but really all he wanted was for me to take them off so that I would be at my weakest when he poured an entire bucket of wine over my head. And so the battle begins.
I’m not actually sure whether a wine battle is the best thing to call it. It’s more of a wine slaughter. However prepared you think you will be with your cardboard cartons of wine and tiny water guns, trust me, it will not be enough. The locals have been doing this every year of their lives – they know how to get shit done. Groups of old men will close in on you from all sides so that there’s no getting away before pouring wine over your head or slapping it on with paintbrushes. For them it’s all business and if you try to get them back with your own pitiful supplies of wine, they just get angry and waste you harder. It’s best just to let it happen and laugh at how chaotic everything is or at how pathetic you are.
Prepare yourself for absolute carnage, for stickiness, for mud, for tears, for seriously pondering whether all the wine is making you drunk by osmosis. Your skin and hair will be dyed purple and you will smell slightly of vinegar for the next few days. But it’s worth it to feel a part of the madness, the thronging purple crowds. This is an ancient festival which is a fixture in the local people’s lives, and you are their guest. The best thing about the Wine Festival is that it is still mostly made up of locals; but it’s growing every year. Appreciate that it may never be this unique and special ever again.
If you would like to read more about this Festival from a visitors’ perspective check out the websites below:
Roaming Around The World: The Wine Battle (Batalla del Vino) in Haro Spain
Global Hobo: Champagne Showers
Young Adventuress: A Battle of….Wine?