Marino turning water into wine

 MARINO - It’s been described by some as a Bacchanalian party and it’s not hard to see why Marino’s annual Sagra dell’Uva or Grape Festival has acquired that label.  Located in the wine-growing Castelli Romani area south of Rome, Marino plays host to four days of festivities whose highlight occurs when two of the town’s fountains start flowing with wine rather than water which is then distributed freely among the crowds. This year’s festival, the 94th edition, is taking place from Friday Oct. 5 to Monday Oct. 8. 

  Not surprisingly a festival where wine flows like water attracts tens of thousands of people from all over Italy and increasingly tourists from other countries as well.  But Marino’s Sagra dell’Uva consists of much more than a free collective drinking spree.  

 Origins of the Sagra

 Dating back to 1925, the Sagra dell’Uva was the brainchild of a well-known local poet and author who wrote under the name of Leone Ciprelli. He wanted a festival that celebrated both the harvesting of Marino’s famous grapes in the month of October and the safe return of Admiral Marcantonio Colonna to his home in Marino after his famous victory over the Turks at the Battle of Lepanto in October 1571.  The four days of festivities at the Sagra include street markets, craft fairs, exhibitions, several concerts featuring live music, parades with floats and an historical re-enactment of Prince Marcantonio Colonna’s triumphant return to his home town after the Battle of Lepanto where the Prince, accompanied by his entourage, rides into Marino on horseback and announces his victory to his wife. The Prince’s entourage includes women in chains to represent the Turkish women who were taken captive after the battle of Lepanto and used as slaves.  

 Fountains flowing with wine

 Adding to the festive atmosphere, Marino’s historical centre is festooned with colourful flowers, lights and bunches of grapes, many of which are handed out to visitors during the Sagra. Sunday morning sees a Mass in the town’s Basilica of St. Barnabas the Apostle, followed by a procession where the statue of Our Lady of the Holy Rosary is carried through the streets.  However, the most eagerly-anticipated event occurs on Sunday afternoon at 17.30 when what is billed as “the Miracle of the Fountains that flow with Wine" takes place. For a short time, the town’s central fountain, the marble Fountain of the Four Moors and another smaller one nearby, flow with Marino DOC white wine instead of water and people jostle their way through the crowds to the fountains to get a free cup.

 Showering in wine

 Ten years ago at the Sagra the white wine failed to start flowing from the two fountains in Marino at the allotted hour due to a now-famous plumbing glitch.  The pipes from the local vineyard that supplies the wine to the fountains were switched by mistake to the domestic water supply feeding dozens of homes in the centre of Marino. The town’s mayor, a priest and crowds of locals had gathered around the Fountain of the Four Moors holding their plastic cups ready to be filled up with wine but were left disappointed when water continued to pour from the plastic tubing attached to the fountains’ outlets instead of wine. 

 Then there was a shout of “miracolo” from one nearby house as a women rushed onto her balcony to announce that wine was flowing from her kitchen tap.  Word quickly spread among the townspeople and they rushed to fill up bottles and plastic containers with the wine flowing from their taps.  Many of the people in the area thought at first that the wine might be some kind of gift from the local council. 

  I have friends living in Marino and they were among the lucky recipients of this plumbing glitch. She told me they discovered what happened when her son took a shower and eventually realized the strong smelling ‘water’ flowing from the shower head was actually wine!

 This year, for the first time ever, Marino’s local authorities have introduced a 3 euro entrance fee for the festivities on Sunday the 7th for non-residents and are setting up security measures to prevent people from bringing glass bottles and jugs. The changes are intended to try to reduce numbers and discourage those people who come to the festival purely to get drunk.

 The entrance ticket plan has been strongly criticized in some quarters but has been welcomed by those locals who dislike the increasingly rowdy and drunken atmosphere at the Sagra among a small minority of visitors, many of them foreigners, after the free wine starts flowing from the fountains. In past years, a number of heavily inebriated people have ended up in hospital with acute alcohol intoxication whilst others vomit in the streets.  The local authorities have promoted the motto “drink responsibly” at the Sagra for the last 2 years in a bid to rein in these scenes of Bacchanalian excess. Their aim is to re-launch the festival as an event promoting the town’s rich cultural, gastronomic and historical traditions and not as an opportunity for some irresponsible people to drink themselves into a stupor.

 TIP:  On Monday afternoon there is a far less crowded re-run of the “fountains flowing with wine” event at the Sagra attended mostly by locals.