A few months ago I mentioned another Saint who lent his support to an excuse to have a party – Saint Barnabas. This time, it is one of the big names, the A-list of saints, that weighs in: Saint Matthew.
San Mateo (or Saint Matthew), is the patron saint of the Rioja harvest, and this event is celebrated on his feast day, the 21st of September every year. The event is one week long festival of wine, music, fireworks, food, dancing, bulls and more wine. The events usually kick off around the 15th of September and runs to around the 23rd.
Everywhere you go there are stands for regional wines, stages set up for bands who perform every night, and a small army of street cleaners keeping the place spotlessly clean (and I really mean it) despite the late night revelries.
One of the highlights is the rather fearsome, but somewhat less cruel to animals, Toros de Fuego event which happens most nights at midnight. Just as elsewhere in Spain, major events are celebrated with numerous bullfights, but Logroño does not make too much of its “bull run” (unlike Pamplona) and instead the whole family gathers to stare down a very different foe.
For around 30 minutes, some poor local athlete (for they have to be fit) has to wear a half barrel on his back made to look like a bull, painted black and with big horns. However, this is a Toro de FUEGO. That’s FIRE! They attach the most wicked sparkling fireworks to these horns so that they shower the entire watching public with sparks as the unfortunate runner races up and down Portales, Logroño’s main pedestrian avenue.
Last time I experienced this I was taken aback, but less so than one of my guests who was rather concerned about ending up like Michael Jackson (in that infamous 1984 Pepsi commercial). While she covered her hair (I had little to worry about) I used her camera to film the event. Unfortunately I don’t have that video, but check this out:
There are usually marquees set up to enjoy food and wine from around Spain as well as Rioja. I spent a very pleasant afternoon in the Andalucian tent last year (the photo above was of one of the paella’s being prepared)
But one of the highlights must be trying to negotiate Calle Laurel, Logroño’s Tapas capital. One little street has 40+ bars on it, with different specialties. Everyone gathers here to celebrate with friends and much wine, and food, is consumed whilst cheerleading bands from the different quarters of the town come by to liven the mood further.
The traditional celebrations include a symbolic “first crush” of grapes in the main square, where barefoot men tread the grapes to make the juice for the offering of a glass of “wine” to the Patron Saint of La Rioja, the Virgin of Valvanera.
This is a great time to visit Rioja. Rioja families come together from across the country to celebrate together, and everyone celebrates the impending harvest. You won’t find this event overrun by foreign tourists, quite the opposite.
If you are planning on visiting Rioja, this is a rgeat time to see it. You’ll need to book quickly as it often fills up quickly, but I recommend it if you can.