I love red wine. I love the taste of it and the smell of it. I like how it makes me feel fancy as fuck, even if I bought it from the bargain bin and it tastes a bit like vinegar. I like drinking red wine and eating cheese and pretending that I can like, appreciate the flavours and shit. It makes my teeth black, my cheeks red and my eyes heavy, but I love it anyway. I just really love red wine
But after getting the shit kicked out of me at La Batalla del Vino, I don’t want to taste, smell or see red wine for an extremely long time.
Haro is a sleepy town nestled into the foothills in Spanish Basque country. It is insanely beautiful, tiny and old with cast iron balconies, cobbles and red flowers in the windows; basically every Instagrammer’s wet dream. As far as I can tell, it is populated by many like-minded drunkards who come together one weekend every year to officially celebrate the drink that they love. Although there are some more traditional ceremonies (the mayor rides a horse, amongst other things), the main point of the Haro Wine Festival seems to be to drink copious amounts of red wine and, once everyone gets bored of that, throw it at each other.
We made our way to Haro from Barcelona by bus; a six hour drive through what looked and felt very much like a desert. Our driver was called José, a portly Spaniard with a fondness for crackly radio and no air conditioning. He took advantage of weird Spanish commercial driving laws by stopping as frequently as possible, leaving busloads of us sweaty and tired at godforsaken rest stops which suffered from unhappy staff and several layers of grease.
The party waiting for us on the other side was worth it though. There was a drink put into my hand before I’d even had the chance to put my bag down with the other. I was staying in a campground with Stoke Travel, about five minutes’ walk from the city centre. We made use of the unlimited beer and sangria until about 11, which is when the street party in the square really heats up.
The town plaza was packed, pumping and full of the happiest people I’ve ever seen. One old Spanish woman, wearing extremely large sunglasses and holding some sort of celebration device that basically seemed to be streamers on a stick, was throwing herself around the cobblestone dance floor so enthusiastically that I was briefly worried for her safety. But I think if she had fallen over it would have been like babies in a plane crash, so blissfully happy and unaware of shit, that any fall would be softened by the clouds of her own chilledness. Satisfied that everyone in the town was too happy to die, I joined the party and spent the entire night enjoying the incredible vibes and being amazed by the Spanish singer who was part Beyoncé, part Shakira, part Zumba instructor and all parts fucking brilliant. Or maybe it was just the red wine.
At about 4am, feeling slightly devastated but mostly just seriously impressed that the elderly locals had managed to out-party me, I stumbled back to my tent for a quick two hours sleep before we had to be up for the wine fight at 6. Wisely, no one had told me that the fight was one five-minute bus ride and one 45-minute walk away, or else I would have seriously, seriously considered staying in bed. Instead, I put on whatever white clothes I had brought with me, rejected breakfast in favour of a few more wines, and headed off to my doom.
Armed with two pitiful cardboard cartons of the most putrid red wine that I’ve ever had the misfortune to have sprayed in my eyes, my confidence about the fight dwindled as I looked around at the arsenal the local Spaniards had prepared themselves with. People were walking around with fertiliser sprayers full of wine strapped to their backs, some had buckets of wine and paintbrushes to slap it onto people with. Groups of old men lined the sides of the road with buckets of wine and used their vantage points to tip it all over people’s heads. Struggling to even open my own cartons along their perforated line, I knew I was fucked.
The only other water fight I’d ever been in involved a front lawn, a sprinkler and two-dollar-shop water balloons that Santa had left in my stocking at Christmas. La Batalla Del Vino was less like playing and more like assault. I had red wine in my eyes, ears and all manner of other unmentionable crevices. Wine flowed freely down the hill and if I hadn’t been distracted by the Spanish five year olds double-teaming me with their water pistols, the hobo in me would have been concerned about the waste. My cartons were gone after five minutes; one Spanish dude snatched one of them out of my hands and used it against me – friendly fucking fire.
Defeated and starting to smell like vinegar as the sun heated us up, we trudged back down the hill, thoroughly purple and wondering whether all the wine had made us drunker by osmosis. After we rushed to get into a shower before the hot water ran out (I wouldn’t have been surprised if the entire town of Haro didn’t have hot water for days), it was time for a snack, a sun-bake and a snooze.