History of La Batalla del Vino, the Haro Wine Fight
Haro Wine Festival - A Millennium in the Making
Now declared a Festival of National and Touristic Interest by the Spanish Government, the Feast of San Pedro, celebrated on the 29th of June each year, is also well known by many different and varied names;
The Haro Wine Fight, San Vino, Battle of Wine, La Batalla del Vino en Haro or Festival of Wine.
Whatever you choose to call it, this now famous Wine Battle of Rioja in Haro, has supposed origins dating back over a millennium.
It is first recorded that in the 6th century, when the patron of the city of Haro, San Felices (Felix) of Bilibio died, that people began to make pilgrimages to the spot where he was buried in the caves of the Riscos de Bilibio (Cliffs of Bilibio) located in the foothills of the Obarenes Mountains some 5 kilometres outside of Haro. Following over many hundreds of years, these pilgrimages continued in honour of the place in the mountains where San Felices prayed and was ultimately laid to rest. Eventually, in the 18th century, a chapel was built there on the cliffs and has since become known as the Hermitage of San Felices de Bilibio. Sometime in the 20th century baptisms held at the Hermitage involved anointing patrons with wine rather than water and in ensuing years these baptisms became celebrations eventually giving birth to the modern day wine fight. This is just one theory as to how the crazy and wild wine soaking celebrations began.
There are a few different theories as to how the Battle of Wine actually began and in essence, they all intertwine, so the truth is certainly in there somewhere.
The week-long Festival of Wine in Haro culminating on the last day in a huge wine battle, is actually a combination of three separate saintly celebrations.
Beginning on the night of June 23rd, it starts with the Bonfires of San Juan, a fire and fireworks celebration beginning at twelve o'clock when a chupinazo (rocket) is launched from the balcony of the town hall. After the day begins the town crier (yes they still exist) begins to parade about the streets of Haro announcing various proclamations. The day's festivities continue through the night until Amanecer del Chocolate (dawn of chocolate).
San Juan's (Saint John) bonfires is a festival celebrated the world over and the Feast of Saint John (as it is otherwise known) closely coincides with the June solstice (Midsummer) in the Northern hemisphere. The Christian holy day for Saint John is fixed on June 24th; but in most countries the festivities for San Juan are mostly held the night before, on what is known as Saint John's Eve.
The 25th of June, known as Patrons Day, sees the actual celebrations of San Felices de Bilibio himself and on June 29th it's the Feast of San Pedro which includes the actual Wine Fight and the following real fire BBQ feasts that the locals enjoy on the Cliffs of Bilibio themselves on what is now a picnic terraced area on the side of the cliffs below the Hermitage.
It is also widely reported that the basis of the wine fight actually derived from a land dispute in the 13th century. As the story goes, the city of Haro had to mark the property lines between their community and the neighbouring community of Miranda de Ebro. In 1237 Judge Sancho Martinez de Leiva, appointed by King Ferdinand the Third of Castile, instructed the town officials of Haro to mark their boundaries with purple banners every year on San Pedro's Day as well as on the first Sunday of each September. If the Haro officials failed to complete this task then the land would be recorded as belonging to the community of Miranda de Ebro instead. After a mass at the Hermitage in 1710, nearly 500 odd years later, the territorial marking procession to the Cliffs of Bilibio ended in a huge celebration during which people started throwing wine at each other. This "celebration" became a tradition and at that time was known as the "War of Wine" and this would eventually be changed to the "Battle of the Wine" in 1965.
In Spanish this unbelievable, exuberant, crazy and mad wine festival is called the Batalla del Vino en Haro.