“Estos son de Nueva Zelanda, ¡son de Nueva Zelaaaanda!” The hastily-adapted lyrics didn’t really fit the tune, but there’s something charming about a vanload of Spaniards singing to the world that three of the passengers (us) were from New Zealand.

It was eight thirty in the morning and there were thirty of us crammed into a van designed for ten, on our way to throw wine at each other and at anyone else in the vicinity. Craig, Janine and I had planned to walk down to the bridge and catch the bus with all of the regular tourists, but a group of Spaniards waiting by the side of the road offered us a ride in their van when we asked them for directions. Since Janine’s foot was hurting and we didn’t really know where the bridge was or if the bus actually existed, we accepted. There were about twelve of them waiting and we weren’t sure we’d fit, but they assured us it’d be all right, and somehow it was… Even though the van was already packed when it pulled up.

That van was full.
That van was full.

And that was just the beginning. We fell out of the van and went our separate ways, and were all soon purple with wine and sticky-skinned after running the gauntlet of people armed with buckets to tip, water guns to spray, and bottles to pour over heads. Everyone was happy and damp, and the gutters were literally flowing with wine.

It seems like a terrible waste, but every year on June 29 the people of Haro celebrate St Peter’s Day with a giant wine fight called La Batalla del Vino (the wine battle). Apparently it has its origins in a land dispute between the town and a neighboring one, and if representatives of Haro don’t visit every year on June 29, they’ll lose jurisdiction of the area.

The battle’s supposed to start after mass is celebrated in the chapel of San Felices at the top of a rather craggy hill, but when we arrived at 8:45 mass was just scheduled to start and the fight was well underway.

The Haro wine fight is well worth a visit, but some preparation is required.

Book accommodation in advance

Unlike at La Tomatina, most of the people at the wine fight seemed to be Spanish, with perhaps a quarter of attendees being foreigners. However, there were A LOT of people there, and all those people need a place to stay — if you want one, get in quick. Many of the English-speakers we talked to had bought a package deal which included transport from Barcelona or another city and accommodation in tents, but it seemed pricy to us. We found a triple room on the outskirts of town that suited us well — the swimming pool was particularly welcome.

You could consider staying in Logroño and just bussing in for the wine fight, or arrive the night before and just not sleep — there’s plenty going on!

Get your outfit

A white t-shirt is a must; white trousers or leggings add to the effect if you have them. Pick up a red bandanna for around €2 from one of the bars or shops after you arrive; it doubles as a souvenir after the fight. Goggles are worth considering as red wine really stings when it gets in your eyes, and if it’s a sunny day you might want to wear a hat — but be prepared for everything you wear to go purple and sticky in record time. A waterproof pouch is a good investment if you plan to take any electronics with you.

Your shirt won't be white for long.
Your shirt won’t be white for long.

Choose your weapon

We bought water guns from a local shop and found them to be a good option. Other attendees had traditional-style wineskins, and some just sloshed wine straight out of plastic bladders. We saw at least twenty people wearing backpack canisters of the type used to spray insecticide or fertilizer — a particularly efficient choice!

Bring wine

The information we had read online said that wine was provided, but the trucks full of wine all seemed to be privately owned. They let us take some, but I would have felt more comfortable if I had brought my own. The Spanish people we travelled up the hill with had carted their own wine in, so I’d certainly do it that way if I attended again. Considering the cheapest wine is €0.60 a litre, it’s not too much of an outlay.

Wine is required.
Wine is required.

Get there

Book your transport to Haro in advance if possible. There’s one direct bus a day from Madrid and we stupidly didn’t book it when we had the chance. After seeing that it was booked out, we found an alternative route via Logroño that took longer and cost more, but at least got us to Haro earlier in the day.

To get to the fight itself, walk downhill from the main square (Plaza de la Paz) along Calle Navarra, and you’ll reach a bridge. Cross the bridge and to your left you’ll probably see some buses waiting to take people the several kilometres uphill to the battle site. You’ll still have to walk a kilometre or so from the bus stop, but it’s better than walking all the way. That said, if you want to walk, search for “ermita de San Felices” in your GPS to find your way there.

Enjoy

You’ll get wine in your eyes and you’ll be sopping wet and sticky all day, but it’s worth it — have a good time!

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