Let´s start with the origin of the wine battle. They say that the tradition of going on a pilgrimage to Bilivio (the old name Haro used to have) Crags comes from the XV century where the master of San Millán (Felices de Bilivio) lived and died. A chapel was built in his name in the eighteenth century and every 29th of June a mass and subsequent lunch was held for the festival of San Pedro. This has evolved big time and the battle of wine is one of the top festivals in Northern Spain, and very popular due to the use of wine as a main component in the day! The wine battle is without a doubt one of the top fun things to do in Spain in June
Haro is a small size town located in the eastern part of La Rioja region and at one hour´s drive south of Bilbao.
It seems that the lunch following the pilgrimage was washed down with plenty of wine and always ended in jokes between the pilgrims who then smeared each other with wine from their “botas” (leather recipients filled with wine). Special amusement came from smearing wine spots on women who did not want to spoil their clothing and for this reason it seems there was a time when the influx of staff was scarce, until 1949 when the feast was revived in full force. From then on it was called the “Battle of the Wine”.
The cliffs of Bilivio can be found just 6 km north of Haro where the Ebro river makes its entrance into La Rioja, and every summer the jarreros go up there on a pilgrimage loaded with all kinds of containers that serve as weapons to throw the wine. They come with their traditional bota bags, bottles, cans, or backpacks equipped with sprayers filled with wine in order to stain the others in the best and the fastest way possible.
To have a great time and participate in the fun celebrations, you only need to follow these simple rules:
– Dress in white with the typical red bandana
– You have no friends during the battle; anyone can shoot you
– You can throw wine on your neighbor from a plastic bottle, water pistol or any other recipient that isn’t glass (to not hurt any of the participants)
– Have a good time during the battle
– Stain any part of the clothing that is still white
The battle usually ends when all the wine is on the ground. That is why you need to take to time to replenish your strength by eating snails, typical on this occasion, or some good lamb chops that are roasted on wine shoots.
After the procession, the groups come back singing to the sound of music until they reach the town center to parade through the Plaza de la Paz and continue the festivities through the streets of Haro.
This festival has been taking shape over the years and from June 24th when San Juan is celebrated, the town has festivities until the day of the Battle of wine of Haro on the 29th of June. Other parallel activities are held in the city during these days, such as a children’s battle. Because the influence of these festivities has become much more important it has been declared a Festival of National Tourist Interest since 2011.
If what led you to the wine festival is your love for the delicious wines of the Rioja, you must also visit some of the ancient cellars that are in the neighborhood or in the vicinity of Haro. Names of historical winemakers like Muga, López de Heredia, CVNE, or RODA deserve a tour (must be booked in advance).
In Haro, besides enjoying the Battle of wine and local cuisine with tapas at La Herradura, you can stroll through the streets discovering its historical heritage, making it a perfect place to spend a few days. Churches like St. Thomas, the Basilica de la Vega, Convent of the Augustinians along with the palaces of the Condes de Haro and Paternina show the economic strength that Haro had in the XVI, XVII and XVIII centuries.