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Cheers To This Spanish Town’s Annual Wine Battle

The boozy event has its roots in a 13th century land dispute

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smithsonian.com

How are you spending your Friday? If the answer isn’t “getting doused in gallons of red wine,” you’re not having as much fun as the residents of Haro, a picturesque town in Spain’s Rioja region. Each year on June 29, as Mike Richard reports for The Manual, the people of Haro celebrate the local harvest in the best way imaginable: with an epic wine fight.

La battalla del vino de Haro, as the boozy festival is known, begins on the night of June 28, when children, grandparents and all ages in between gather on the town’s streets for a night of partying. At dawn the next morning, residents slip into white clothing and red bandanas and set out on a four-mile trek uphill to the highest point in Haro. The mayor leads the group on horseback.

Once they reach an area near the hermitage of Los Riscos de Bilibio, festival-goers say mass and the mayor plants a purple flag on the hilltop. Then the bacchanal commences.

Trucks holding 20,000 gallons of red wine provide ammunition for the fight. According to the event’s website, “If you see someone who still has a part of his clothing clean, he will be your preferred target.” Guzzling libations during the fight is very much encouraged.

After the war of wine subsides, purple-tinted participants head back to the town center for further celebrations: traditional dances, a bull run featuring small female heifers (which are not killed during the event, in contrast to other bullfights in Spain), a feast, and of course, more drinking.

The festival has its roots in the region's religious history. When local saint Felices de Bilibio died in the 6th century, people began making pilgrimages into the cliffs to honor him. A hermitage was erected in the 18th century, and soon celebrants were "baptizing" each other in wine to celebrate the event. The modern iteration of the tradition began in 1965, when the pilgrimage was dubbed a “wine battle” and residents of Haro started drenching each other in booze for the sheer joy of it.

Though the battle started as a local tradition, tourists now flock to Haro on June 29, willing to endure epic hangovers for the chance to participate in the wine-soaked revelry.

About Brigit Katz

Brigit Katz is a freelance writer is based in Toronto. Her work has appeared in a number of publications, including NYmag.com, Flavorwire and Tina Brown Media's Women in the World.

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