The 1000-year history behind the FREE wine fountain on the Camino de Santiago (Camino Francés)
Updated: May 11
(and drinking etiquette)
There is little else that rankles people more than seeing photos of pilgrims filling up large bottles of wine at the free wine fountain near Estella. So, before you choose to do the same, here’s a post of perhaps why you should show more respect…
As you leave the city of Estella, you walk through an outer village called Ayegui. At the end of Ayegui you have to cross the road out into the countryside, where you pick up the trail again. Immediately on your right you will spot the Forge of Ayegui, a blacksmith’s workshop, on the right-hand side of the camino (you can’t miss it). This shop sells beautiful handmade metal necklaces & mementos of the camino.
Two hundred metres further up, again on the right, is the free water and wine fountain (one tap for each). The attached bodega (winery) gives away 100 litres of cheap wine per day. It is of very low quality (obviously), and anybody who tells you otherwise does not know their wine! When the 100L has gone, it remains empty until it is refilled the following day.
WHY IS THERE FREE WINE HERE?
Sadly, most people don’t know the answer to this question, and just see it as a jolly jape, and fill their water bottles to overflowing with the wine, thus depriving other pilgrims of a taste of it. (Seriously, if you need a litre or two of wine, get it from the supermarket at no more than €3 per bottle! It is a much better quality!)
The story of the wine is one of the most interesting stories on the camino, and it goes back to the year 1034 (approximately). This was the year that a young boy was admitted to the adjacent monastery (monasterio de Irache), which is located opposite the free wine location, to train as a Benedictine monk. His name was Veremundo, and he was just 14 years old.
The young monk was born in Villatuerta, a
village on the camino just before you enter Estella (although the village of Arellano also claims him - it's possible that each of his parents came from each of these villages). The local church in Villatuerta has a statue of him outside, and a plaque on the wall above a drinking fountain, stating (in Spanish) that ‘the water is to quench your thirst, but at the next stage there is the strength of a good wine’.
MONASTERY OF IRACHE
The origins of the monastery date back to the 8th C. It was one of the traditional stopping places for pilgrims, who would be provided a small bed, cheese, bread and wine for free. It also became the first pilgrim hospital in Navarra. The young Veremundo so loved the pilgrims that he was soon in trouble for providing them with too much food and drink. Whenever he went to feed them, senior monks would require him to open his robes to see what he carried beneath. The extra food miraculously converted into flowers or firewood.
ABBOT PERIOD AND MORE MIRACLES.
At 24, Veremundo was elected Abbot of the monastery, and under his guidance, it grew enormously. Later, whilst travelling nearby, Veremundo saw an image of Santa Maria del Puy in a field. The King of Navarra duly arrived and founded a new city at the site (Estella). The camino was adapted to come into Estella, and you are now given an option to follow the original camino, thus by-passing Estella, if you so wish.
Veremundo also caused wine to gush from a fountain nearby to feed the pilgrims, and fed a group of approximately 10,000 starving villagers with a flock of birds from heaven.
He once asked a group of pilgrims what they had seen on their camino so far, and they replied, ‘Nothing.’ Veremundo was indignant at their ignorance of the splendour of God’s creation, and exclaimed, ‘I see the world!’ He then turned the pilgrims into windmills, who were condemned to turn for eternity, arriving nowhere and never changing their point of view.
Veremundo died in the 1090s.
FROM MONK TO SAINT VEREMUNDO
That 14-year-old trainee monk eventually became the Patron Saint of Pilgrims in Navarra, and the free wine is provided in honour of his memory.
Take a shell, or use the palm of your hand, and slurp a taste of wine in honour of the saint, but don’t quaff loads. He is watching you, and he might just turn you into a windmill, too!
THE NEARBY MONASTERY OF IRACHE & WINE MUSEUM
Don't now walk on, as there is more to see at this place! The monastery is beautiful (and free), and the guy on the door speaks English (the entrance is from the small green in front of the museum). Deep inside, you’ll find a stunning church, containing some relics of Saint Veremundo (it was whilst looking at these relics in 2021, that something weird happened to me which led me on a 3-month journey, taking me from being a lifelong, uncompromising atheist, to a follower of Jesus, which all 'coincidentally' happened on the camino in this area. That incredible story is told in my book.)
The wine museum doesn’t look much from the outside, and the ground floor contains some interesting relics from the winery, but the best part is underground, TWO MORE LEVELS, where you can see authentic wine making installations, not to mention a wine cellar carved out of bedrock, containing hundreds of ancient bottles of wine! The receptionist doesn't show much interest, but it is well worth ten minutes of your time.
Both locations have credential stamps.
OPENING HOURS AND PILGRIM ISSUES
One of the biggest issues with the wine fountain is the proximity to Estella. As Estella is the major stop before the fountain, most pilgrims arrive far too early and well before the fountain has been refilled (it's just half an hour's walk from Estella). As the fountain is a highlight for many pilgrims, if you are setting off from Estella, you might want to plan to arrive there around 10am, as not only will the wine be running by then (and hopefully not all drunk up), but also the nearby monastery and museum open up around that time too, and both are free to enter.
Buen camino, and don't be a windmill!
(Originally posted on Facebook group, Camino de Santiago All Routes.)