Driving down from Lisbon, it took around 7 hours until we hit La Rioja. I was particularly excited about heading there for the first time. I spent a third of my life growing up in Spain as my dad moved over there when I was a kid. It seems that wherever you go in the world, Rioja red wine is up there with Italian and French. I was familiar with La Rioja but had no idea of the vastness of the region and the number of epic wines on offer. The main reason for this trip was to head to the Haro Wine Festival and La Batalla Del Vino; more commonly known as the Wine Battle in the town of Haro.
After sussing out the world’s largest water fight Songkran in Bangkok, I was frothing over the thought of taking part in a similar party; but instead of thousands of people throwing, water at each other, this time it was going to be wine…
La Batalla Del Vino is part of the Fiesta de San Pedro, an annual celebration every June in the town of Haro; located in the undisputed king of the wine region Rioja.
We headed into town to Plaza de la Paz, the main square in Haro to celebrate the Haro Wine Festival. Being Spain, things start a bit later but the crowd filled up quickly. Generally, people start going out for a bite to eat around 10 pm. The stage in the square had been set up for a few days as the official celebrations kick off a few days earlier, with live concerts and parades.
There are so many epic tapas bars to choose from right off the Plaza. We strolled up through Calle Santo Tomás, checking out a couple of bars. You can’t go wrong with tortillas in this part of Spain; the chorizo tortilla was next level, along with the vino. Afterward, we headed down to the next alleyway Calle San Martin, where Plaza San Martin was going off at the end of the road. A local band was tearing it up and the crowd was going absolutely nuts! Everyone descended into Plaza de la Paz from the bars around 11 pm. There were local bands playing, processions going on and everyone was in high spirits for the wine fight in the morning.
As tradition goes, everyone in town is dressed in white. If you don’t have a white t-shirt or trousers, you can pop into a local shop and get some there; along with a red bandana. There were even signs showing what to wear for the wine fight and it is strongly recommended to wear proper shoes, eyewear and no flip flops. This had me thinking about what was really about to go down in the morning! Along with the clothing, we also got some water pistoles from the store in Haro, as well as some boxed wine.
The music went on well throughout the night, with the whole town and tourists partying until the sunrise. Kat, Theo and I decided to head back to the apartment at 1 pm to get some sleep before the morning, which a few families were doing.
After sticking around until the early morning, partying in the streets, we headed to the Camping de Haro parking lot. There were free buses going up and down the mountain where the fight takes place. The lines for the buses were absolutely massive and some people decided to just shake off the hangover and walk the 7km up the hill. The area is stunning with vineyards on either side. As we were staying outside of Haro, we drove in along with all the other locals. The traffic was bumper to bumper as we left around 7.30am and the wine fight kicks off at 8 am. We got there just after the start; it was hilarious seeing people walking up in white on the righthand side and those on the left heading back down in purple.
As we were walking, it was impossible to miss the path that turned into a river of wine streaming down the hill. This was about to be heavy!
The vibe during the Haro Fight was non-stop; everyone from our two-year-old Theo to 80-year-old grandmothers was laughing and squirting wine at each other. It gets hectic in the middle of the field as there are local pros with literal buckets of wine, pouring them over people’s heads and of course, trying to target the ‘guirias’ and anyone that is still dressed in white and not purple!
A few local party trucks and tractors were right in the middle of the action, concealed from the madness in the safety of their vehicles, while also selling wine out of the back of the trucks.
Locals showed up to the wine battle with their heavy-duty, military-style farmer fertilizer water pistoles. It looked like something out of Ghostbusters! These guys take the fight very seriously and do not look Kindly to any ‘Guiaria’ (foreigners) still dressed in white.
After the wine battle, the afternoon is dedicated to resting; but the party continues later in the evening and of course, continues well into the early hours of the morning. There was more live music and bands playing, such as the Dune Rats, who performed on the main stage at 3 am.
Some of the best wines in Spain and Europe can be found in the region of Haro, La Rioja. I bumped into a local historian Fernando, who gave me the rundown of his picks of the best place for wine in the town. Here is a rundown of his favorites:
This is the oldest winery region and wall the wineries are right next to each other so it was easy to hop from one to the next. I went with Fernando’s advice and did a tasting at Viña Tondonia. Unfortunately, I didn’t manage to book in a tour of the Tondonia winery as it was full and you have to book in advance. The tasting did not disappoint and I could have stayed there all day!
Haro also has a number of museums with everything from history to art, and of course, wine. One of the main attractions is the Vivanco Museum of Wine Culture, an impressive museum dedicated exclusively to wine. There was also the Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Haro El Torreón, displaying local contemporary art.
No trip to Spain is complete without sampling some traditional tapas. One of the most popular tapas bars is Jamonero Madrid, a bar dedicated (although not limited to) all things ham. For a more authentic experience, locals flock to Mesón Los Berones, a tapas bar filled with traditional Riojan tapas. Finally, Bar Benigno is perfect for classic and traditional ‘raciones’, offering famous tapas with slightly bigger portions.
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