Hot air balloons transform into giant glowing lanterns during the evening festivities. // © 2015 Deborah Dimond
Feature image (above): Soaring high above the Temecula Valley Balloon & Wine Festival // © 2015 Deborah Dimond
After waking up at dawn and making my way down to the Lake Skinner fairgrounds for the Temecula Valley Balloon & Wine Festival in Temecula, Calif., last May, I was treated to a menagerie of giant whimsical balloons in every stage of being inflated for the sunrise launch with tour operator A Great Escape Balloon Adventure. The festival’s crew of volunteers labored briskly, firing off burners and transforming limp piles of fabrics into vehicles for a skyborne journey.
Climbing into my balloon’s basket, I imagined that the ascent would feel similar to riding an elevator up dozens of floors or lifting off in a plane — but it was a sensation of its own. With no meddlesome wind that morning, we steadily climbed higher and higher.
I watched the scene unfold, mesmerized at the view of the other balloons around us and the lake, rolling hillsides and vineyards of the beautiful Temecula Valley below. During the one-hour flight, Lauren Ball, a pilot for Gypsy Flights Adventures, also shared the history of hot air ballooning and basic mechanics of the rig.
Following our landing, others chimed in with tidbits of hot air balloon history. According to legend, early French aeronauts would carry champagne to appease frightened spectators or landowners after trespassing by landing on their property. It was believed that lowering the bottles of bubbly from the floating basket to the strangers below, who might be brandishing pitchforks, would convince them that the balloonists were in fact human and not some sort of flying demon. Legend also said that a bottle of champagne could be used like a fire extinguisher if the balloon should ignite.
Fable or not, the trend of champagne with hot air ballooning has continued — a common tradition among modern-day balloonists is to have a champagne toast upon touchdown. With a glass in one hand and my newly minted flight certification in the other, I listened as the crew toasted with a recitation of the “Balloonist’s Prayer.”
Temecula Valley Balloon & Wine Festival’s sunrise rides are available to book with A Great Escape Balloon Adventure for an additional fee. Check-in is at 5:30 a.m. sharp.
But there are more ways to experience hot air balloons at the festival. Attendees can take a free morning tethered balloon ride, which is included in the price of admission. For those who prefer to keep their feet solidly planted on the ground, there are the sunrise viewings of the balloon launches on Saturday and Sunday. And beginning at approximately 8 p.m. each night of the festival, dozens of balloons ignite their burners, transforming the balloons into giant glowing lanterns under a star-filled sky.
Wines, of course, are also aplenty. Having enjoyed the balloon portion of the event, I was looking forward to sampling some of the incredible wines produced in Temecula. While sipping a local chardonnay, I window-shopped vendor booths offering a myriad of products, from scrumptious food to handmade art.
For festival-bound families, there are plenty of activities for the kids, with a designated “Kids Faire” exclusively for children ages 14 and younger. This special space includes a petting zoo, rides, a rock-climbing wall, face-painting and other activities.
Temecula Valley Balloon & Wine Festival also features live music. This year, rock band Daughtry and country star Chris Young will headline, and bands Plain White T’s, Love and Theft, Gorjana, among others, will take the stage as well.
The upcoming festival will take place Friday, May 29, to Sunday, May 31.