Battle of the barrels festival in montepulciano, tuscany – longwayinn

Just a 20-minute drive from Montepulciano is the independent holiday getaway of Cignella. The former Tuscan farmhouse has been converted into nine self-contained villas and four apartments, each with their own personality and unique style. Daily breakfast can be added to the booking and facilities include a swimming pool (open May to October) surrounded by a raised lawn with plenty of seating and sun loungers. To make the most out of the region Cignella recommend bringing a car – there is private parking onsite.

The Bravio is the actual name of the beautifully painted banner bearing the image of the Patron Saint of the town, Saint Giovanni.

Two athletes from each neighbourhood, called Spingitori, roll a 160lb empty wine barrel in an uphill race for over a mile along the streets of the town until they reach the front of the Cathedral in the Grand Plaza. Battle of the barrels (c) Jim Chamberlain

Communal dinners are held in the neighbourhoods and the whole village is decorated in the colourful flags of the 8 districts. Heralds trumpet out each parade from the windows of the medieval town hall with its crenellations and tall tower called the Palazzo Comunale whose central tower dates back to the 16 th century and reminds you of the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence. Streets of Montapulciano (c) Jim Chamberlain

The festival started back in 1373 as a horse race between the regions like Sienna’s, race around the El Campo. Today’s names of the Contradas are the same that have always been. They are the Cagnano, Collazzi, Coste, Gracciano, Poggiolo, San Donato, Talosa, and Voltaia. They maintain the same colours, coat of arms and ceremonial parades as they have for centuries.

The horse race for the Bravio continued until the 17 th century when it was stopped to maintain public order. The recent history of the Bravio began in 1974 when a local priest had the suggested the swapping of the old horse race for a barrel race. The oak barrels are an important symbol of Montepulciano. Only here is the famous wine, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, aged in them. Vino Nobile di Montepulciano

Vino Nobile di Montepulciano wine must come from vineyards on the hills which surround Montepulciano. The key grape variety grown here is Sangiovese. Sangiovese grapes must make up at least 60–80 percent of the final wine. The aging period for any Vino Nobile di Montepulciano is a minimum of 24 months (36 months for the Riserva wines), of which at least 12 months must be spent in oak barrels. Local winemakers have long used large Italian botti.

You meet your guide in a large outdoor patio with views of the Tuscan countryside and the church of San Biagio. The tour takes you down an equestrian brick staircase several floors where you will see huge black wine barrels of Slavonian oak, wooden wine presses, and a golden cave where the Etruscans stored their wine before the time of Christ. The cellar is roofed by a monumental succession of arches and sustained by massive pillars which together reminded me of a Cathedral. This tour finishes with a tasting of three vintages of the Vino Nobile with appetizers. The wine is full bodied, elegant, and a deep red. It has been heralded as one of the best wines produced in Tuscany. Festivities prior to the festival

The athletes push their barrels with trained hands up the narrow steep lanes. Residents and visitors alike crowd narrow doorways as the huge barrels are rolled by. Everyone is cheering for their favorites as the athletes compete for the lead. Only one Contrada will be able to celebrate the victory and claim the Bravio. The other Contradas will be disappointed but will applaud the winner. A story that is till repeating itself after 600 years.