A Few Tomatoes? Throw 90 Tonnes of Grapes Instead...
La Pobla del Duc, in the Vall de Albaida is in the hinterland in the province of Valencia. It is a sleepy town, one of many in the hinterland of Spain. But it hides a secret Spanish fiesta, one thousands would probably come to, were it to become more well-known. Of course, the locals knew: the annual La Raima fiesta in Pobla Del Duc in August was justly famous in the Spanish fiesta calendar. A quaint town, its cobbled narrow lanes, with jaunty buntings and festive street lights.
Aaaah, there is a Spanish fiesta, about to begin, is once again holding ‘La Raima’ or the ‘Battle of the Grapes’ in late August.
What is La Raima fiesta, or La Raima festival? Look around, and you'll see a sea of vineyard-type holdings -o-k-a-y... a food/fruit fight with grapes instantly springs to mind. Around the same time as La Tomatina, the food fight with tomatoes, the village of La Pobla Del Duc hosts an incredible fruit-battle, the annual fiesta in August of La Raima, or Batalla de la Uvas. An unusual and little publicised festival, except to the Spanish. Thousands of grapes are thrown in this festival, which is a legacy of a bizarre event upholding the area’s viticultural tradition, going back to the 1930s.
Five or more trucks will distribute 90 tonnes of ‘Garnacha Tintorera’ grapes among the participants, much like the 'Tomatina' the tomato throwing festival in the town of Buñol. The Garnacha (and the Tempranillo) grapes are used to make full-bodied red wines. This 90 tonnes worth of grapes are actually the 'excess' at the end of the annual harvest - and, you can only eat so many or give them away. So why not share them, or 'throw' being the more demonstrative word, around with your neighbour?
This we had to see for ourselves, it sounded like a fabulous day out. On the day of the festival, we drove from Perleta Magic up through the hinterland. Passing villages on the hillsides, and orchards planted with lemons and sweet Valencian oranges, we made our way inland and occasionally interrupted pockets of almond growers, their harvest well in hand. This is also where 'turron', a nougat confection made with almonds, is made.
Soon, a sea of grapevines greeted us, ripening in the hot sun... we're getting closer to our destination. At last, we had arrived in Pobla del Duc, the village in which the "Battalla de las Uvas" was about to commence at 12 noon close to the Wine-Making Cooperative on the edge of town; seven trucks fully loaded with sweet, black grapes were parked in a row – the ammunition.
Further down the road crowds were gathering around in a small park, with a percussion band keeping a lively tempo, and food and drink handed down on long trestle tables, while waiting for festivities to begin. Here's an still from someones youTube 2009 video - there's me next to the white van in red circle, and Murray in yellow circle.
Newscasters/broadcasters were busy with reporting…What do the newscasters want with me? To say, in a different language: "Welcome to La Raima..." Ah-ha, I see. Then, they noticed my leg brace…-oh- I had a stroke (AVM) 14 years ago, and was in a wheelchair. I can now walk, with the help of a leg brace, but can feel only 50% on my right side, and my right arm/hand is still paralysed. But, I was only there to take photos.... what could happen?
I did the 2-second interview with my welcome speech, live on TV, and then midday - zero hour. A signal from the trumpets, and La Raima battle had begun.
About 8-10 people on board each truck: riding on top of the grapes and chucking/pelting/lobbing them, and the participants were lobbing the grapes back, gleefully.
Soon the road and people began to turn splotchy hues of purple. I was sheltering behind the crowds, dodging flying missiles of bunches of grapes.
The trucks were moving slowly down this one road, towards me, and I saw my chance with the camera.
I took my aim and with my one and only hand, shot loads of film with my camera, blinded by 'grape must', a film of sticky, sickly sweet juice covered part of my lens.
All the fun was going to be had by Murray. Sunglasses, white t-shirt, tan shorts, and water-shoes (you squelch if you wear normal shoes, and they're going to be ruined for ever!), protection for his camera (a heavy-duty plastic bag). For me, it was a similar get-up... though, I was just an onlooker.
I had been spotted - as not having been in-the-battle-with-the-grapes (yet!) by the grape-throwers on top of the last truck, burgeoning with grapes, but a target nonetheless: “fotógrafa!” they screamed, pointing at me.
I was cornered by the side of the building, not able to move anywhere.
By this time, the road surface was squelchy with grape-must and squashed black grapes (so I couldn't move anywhere)...er, this is a cul-de-sac... oh dear.
This grape-assault curtailed any further shots with my camera until Murray noticed and came to my rescue. He stood in front of me as a shield, catching the incoming and hurling them back, tit for tat, but there were too many of the grape throwers. He got hammered with grapes, but stood his ground anyway.
Many other participants noticed our plight, and joined in the fun.
Even the television crews weren't exempt, in fact they had a harder time than most... note the lady presenter with the microphone on the left has a lovely purple colour on the back of her head and all down her back.
The cameraman has his expensive video camera wrapped in a robust plastic protector... ...and of course the producer (orange shirt) has just handed her a helpful (useless?) roll of a toilet paper, as they are wont to do.
It was over all too soon, as the blast of fireworks signified the end of the event - squelching through the aftermath of this grape-food-fight was a sea of ooze, trampled purplish-black grapes....the participants all dishevelled with purple tints and stains to their clothes / face / hair, and sporting big grins.
The clean-up began soon after - big hoses on trucks, dumping tons of water to wash away the mass of grape pulp. There were places to hose down the participants too - showers had been installed.
I realised that Murray had a good idea, protecting his camera. Some of the participants had some pretty nifty ideas (shields made of plastic, disposable raincoats...) - must try them out next year.
Since our place is near Santa Pola, we soon made tracks back, but with a bit of wandering: we had a late lunch of tapas in Jijona/Xixona where the luscious ‘turron’ is made. We toured the Museo del Turron , and watched how they processed the almonds. The end product is turron, either hard (Alicante) or soft (Jijona) – there were many different flavours to choose from, so we needed no second invitation is buy a few boxes for the road.
Dinner was at a beach-side seafood restaurant back in Santa Pola. There are many restaurants, bars and cafes, eateries, chiringuitos (beach shack bars) up and down the Costa Blanca coast that serve good food well until the early hours of the morning, in summer.
A point to note: La Tomatina is globally recognised and seriously over-subscribed: if you're not there the day before with somewhere to stay it's likely you won't get anywhere near the place. On the other hand, 'La Raima' is only regionally known, so it's a wonderful contrast to be able to arrive with half an hour to spare and got a top parking spot near the action. Long may it stay local.
Another list of fiestas to consider is next weeks agenda - Viva las fiestas!
As an addendum, if you're interested, here's that video (Spanish) of La Raima 2009 :
[Murray in white t-shirt and tan shorts, at 2:01 - 2:06, walking behind the guy being interviewed by the TV camera, and Murray+Jackie near the van behind the samba drummers at 6:32 - 6:39]