If one of your new year’s wine resolutions is to travel more, have I got the wine-related event for you to put in your calendars for this summer!
Over in Spain’s famous Rioja region, where they’re known for their tempranillos and architecturally stunning wineries, there is an annual event called the batalla del vino. Yes, that translates to “the wine battle,” and no, it’s not like a battle-of-the-bands style competition.
Instead, it’s basically a bunch of locals and international wine enthusiasts (and yes, a ton of backpackers) who all gather in the town of Haro. Though the batalla itself is held on June 29th, which is the patron day of San Pedro, most folks come a few days earlier to taste the region’s wines and generally hang out. There are massive parties in the Plaza de la Paz, the main square in town, on the night of the 28th, and most folks drink celebrate all night.
Then, right before dawn, they don all-white clothes and red neck scarves…and tote along water guns, water balloons, buckets, and pretty much any other kind of liquid-spewing projectile they can get their hands on. Then they catch rides up into the hills above town, a couple miles away, where they all gather in a huge meadow called the Biliblio.
At around sunrise, the battle commences, with everyone filling up their vessels from water tankers containing local wines…and soaking everyone else as thoroughly as possible while the sun comes up and for a few hours after. All those white clothes turn into the wine version of Jackson Pollock splatter paintings, and the whole thing quickly devolves into laughing and dancing, making new friends. And usually fending off hordes of teenagers trying to dump buckets of wine on everyone else.
Afterwards, everyone heads back to town to wash off (or not) and revel for the rest of the day. There are bullfights (which I personally might not suggest attending), but also plenty of live music, long, leisurely lunches, and night-long celebrations.
I had the pleasure of attending a few years ago, and have to say that it was one of the most unique, spontaneously fun travel experiences I’ve had in Europe. And it beats getting pegged with tomatoes at the similar Tomatina Festival in Buñol!
If you’re interested in going, it’s just a three-hour bus ride or drive from Madrid. I’d suggest staying in Haro itself at the Hotel Los Augustinos, an imposing hotel converted from a former monastery that was originally built in the 14th century. Also be sure to spend an evening grazing tapas at the various bars along Calle Santo Tomás.
And if you have a few days to spend in the area, try tasting wines at Bodegas Bilbaínas, visiting the tasting room and wine museum at Bodegas Vivanco, chatting up pilgrims along the Santiago de Compostela trail at Bodegas Corral, and scheduling time for a dinner at the Frank Gehry-designed Marqués de Riscal winery and hotel.
If you do attend the batalla del vino this summer, tweet me photos @clustercrush!