“Every man who loves peace, every man who loves his country, every man who loves liberty ought to have it ever before his eyes that he may cherish in his heart a due attachment to the Union of America and be able to set a due value on the means of preserving it.” — James Madison, Federalist No. 41.
One of the things I like about living in south Riverside County is the annual Temecula Valley Balloon and Wine Festival each June. The festival usually takes place on the first weekend in June and this year was no different. It is a three day celebration of the wines produced in the Temecula Valley and the fun and excitement of hot air ballooning.
Each year the festival takes place on the shores Lake Skinner on the eastern edge of the City of Temecula. The festival, while not as large and famous as the annual and famous Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta held each September, is still a great celebration of ballooning and the fine wines of the Temecula Valley — wines that are on a par with the wines produced in the Napa and Sonoma valleys of California.
This year marked the 30th anniversary of the festival. The Temecula Valley Balloon and Wine Festival, then known as the Rancho California Balloon and Wine Festival, was started in 1983 by Walt Darren, a commercial airline pilot and avid balloonist and by Evelyn Harker a veteran event organizer and fund raiser. Evelyn immediately suggested it might "fly" even better if it involved some of the area’s other natural attractions such as wine tasting, culinary presentations and entertainment. With an enormous task ahead, the assistance of two other community-minded individuals, Sherry Prysock and Mike Flaherty was enlisted and Evelyn became the first event chair person. The seed money was provided by Kaiser Development Company and sponsors came from the local community giving what they could with many contributions consisting of in-kind services and products.
At this time, there were only six wineries in the region. The first Balloon and Wine Festival was launched in the spring of 1984 and was a monumental success for a town of only 9,000 residents. More than 4,000 people were in attendance that year as 35 balloons were launched from the Rancho California Plaza area off Ynez Road (now Tower Plaza). The balloons flew over the serene pastures surrounding the area and the wine tasting was held in the parking lot of the current Tower Plaza.
As the Festival grew, music was added and the event was moved to the Sports Park. In 1986 as the event continued to grow, it was moved to Cherry Avenue and the first ever poster contest was held. During 1987-1988, the Festival was moved back to the Sports Park and in 1989; it was moved to its current location at Lake Skinner. In the beginning, parking was not even allowed on the Festival park grounds.
In 1988, a landmark year by all accounts, the Festival featured live big name entertainment with the Coasters and Little Anthony and the Imperials. In 1991 the Beach Boys entertained to growing crowds of locals and newcomers alike. Some of the early stages used were "handmade" by volunteers which is a far cry from the sophisticated production of recent years.
A few of the highlights and lowlights from the festival’s history during its years of growth and popularity are:
In 1991 the Temecula Valley Balloon and Wine Festival Association was formed when the Chamber of Commerce ceased producing the event. The mission statement of this new non-profit charitable organization was (and still is) to enhance the charitable, cultural, educational and economic development of the region.
During the 1992-1993 Festival years, no hot air balloons were launched but a balloon glow was presented by Paradise Chevrolet in 1993.
While the theme of hot air balloons and wine has always served to anchor the event, each year new attractions have been introduced. The Temecula Valley Balloon and Wine Festival has become a celebration of life with flavor and appeal for everyone and has become the premier event in the beautiful Temecula Valley.
In 1991 the festival was cancelled. In its place a concert headlined by the Beach Boys was held at the Rancho California —- now Southern California Golf Association —- Golf Course.
Perhaps it was the $25 ticket price, or maybe because the Beach Boys had a concert scheduled later that evening in Orange County, but attendance at the concert was disappointing. Some in the community wondered if the festival would ever recover. There was only one or two at the golf course. Highlight: No traffic, no lines, plenty of great seats for the concert.
In 1992 the Temecula Valley Chamber of Commerce, which had run the festival since the early days, turned over operations to a group of volunteers determined to keep the annual event alive. The event, renamed the Temecula Valley Balloon & Wine Festival, returned to Lake Skinner where it remains to this day. Traffic, though heavy, was manageable. The balloons were plagued, as sometimes happens near the Pacific Coast in Southern California, and the balloons were grounded on both days of the festival.
Fearing the trampling of endangered creatures at the nature reserve by automobiles, festival goers are required to park outside the Lake Skinner gate and ride yellow school buses to the festival grounds. This is not the case today as there is a graded parking area that can accommodate thousands of vehicles.
In 1994 for the first time since the event was reorganized in 1992, organizers said the festival made money.
Fog grounds once again grounds the balloons both days, but that’s not a bad thing for one man. A balloon pilot suffers a heart attack minutes after the Saturday balloon launch is cancelled. Had the skies been clear chances are he would have been soaring high above Lake Skinner when the attack occurred. The pilot was taken to a hospital and recovers.
Los Angeles radio disc jockeys Mark and Brian push a large Bob’s Big Boy statue dressed as Elvis Presley out of a hot-air balloon. “Elvis Bob” is attached to a bungee cord, however the length of that chord is “overguesstimated” and the statue smacks into the ground. Fortunately none of this stuff goes on today
In 1995 the event continues to grow and gain regional recognition.
With attendance up an estimated 35 percent over the previous year to an estimated 50,000 —- considered by most to be official high attendance mark —- festival organizers ponder moving the event to a larger location.
Balloons: Fly both days for the first time since 1989
Highlight: Scenes for the motion picture “A Weekend in the Country” starring Jack Lemmon, Christine Lahti, Rita Rudner and Dudley Moore are filmed in and around Temecula including at the festival. Many “locals” serve as “extras” on the film which, instead of being blockbuster boffo, is released straight to cable.
Entertainment: Lou Rawls, former Monkee Davy Jones, John Kay and Steppenwolf.
In 2000 in hopes of dodging the persistent fog of May, the festival is moved to June for the first time. The move pays immediate dividends.
Balloons: Fly both days.
The wine tasting area is moved from the back to the front of the festival area which pleases local wineries. A total of 14 Temecula area wineries participate, double the number from last year.
In 2008 about 40 balloons launch both days.
Headliners: For the 25th anniversary of the Festival Singer/Songwriter Kenny Loggins is booked to headline the main stage on Saturday. Pop rocker John Waite and rising county star Blake Shelton play Friday night, while pop band Ambrosia fills the Wine Stage on Sunday. The popular Motocross show returns Sunday to the main stage.
Highlight/Lowlight: Scenes for the movie “The Ugly Truth” starring Katherine Heigl are shot during the festival. Following the festival a former employee alleges spending improprieties causing sheriff’s detectives to launch an investigation. Festival officials open their books and the allegations are found to be baseless.
2010 brings sunny skies, warm temperatures and 40 soaring balloons each morning
Headliners: Paul Rodgers, the “voice of Bad Company,” Vertical Horizon, the Gin Blossoms on the main stage, jazz band Spyro Gyra on the wine stage and Motocross again on Sunday.
Highlight: The mostly completed multi-million dollar renovation of Lake Skinner by Riverside County provides better sight lines for the main stage and a more comfortable venue for festival goers. Saturday’s ticket price of $25, matching the mark set in 1991 for the Beach Boy concert, again leads to grumbling.
2011 balloons fly both days with sunny skies, comfortable temperatures in the 70s.
Headliners: Third Eye Blind, Dennis DeYoung: The Music of Styx and Ambrosia.
Great attendance, kudos all around. As always, someone who knows nothing about physics, is quoted in the newspaper because she’s disappointed the balloons didn’t fly in the afternoon.
Last year the balloons flew both days, although Sunday morning fog forces the pilots to drive away from the festival sight to launch.
Headliners: Lifehouse, Soul Asylum and John Waite
Organizers try a new traffic pattern to funnel patrons into the festival and also widen the entry way from two to four and six lanes. Food and wine pairings continue to draw rave reviews.
This year the balloons flew from the festival grounds on both days and on both nights the balloon glow was spectacular.
The hot air balloon is the oldest successful human-carrying flight technology. It is part of a class of aircraft known as balloon aircraft. On November 21, 1783, in Annonay, France, the first untethered manned flight was performed by Jean-François Pilâtre de Rozier and François Laurent d'Arlandes in a hot air balloon created on December 14, 1782 by the Montgolfier brothers. Hot air balloons that can be propelled through the air rather than just being pushed along by the wind are known as airships or, more specifically, thermal airships.
A hot air balloon consists of a bag called the envelope that is capable of containing heated air. Suspended beneath is a gondola or wicker basket (in some long-distance or high-altitude balloons, a capsule), which carries passengers and (usually) a source of heat, in most cases an open flame. The heated air inside the envelope makes it buoyant since it has a lower density than the relatively cold air outside the envelope. As with all aircraft, hot air balloons cannot fly beyond the atmosphere. Unlike gas balloons, the envelope does not have to be sealed at the bottom since the air near the bottom of the envelope is at the same pressure as the air surrounding. For modern sport balloons the envelope is generally made from nylon fabric and the inlet of the balloon (closest to the burner flame) is made from fire resistant material such as Nomex. Beginning during the mid-1970s, balloon envelopes have been made in all kinds of shapes, such as rocket ships and the shapes of various commercial products, though the traditional shape remains popular for most non-commercial, and many commercial, applications.
Increasing the air temperature inside the envelope makes it lighter than the surrounding (ambient) air. The balloon floats because of the buoyant force exerted on it. This force is the same force that acts on objects when they are in water and is described by Archimedes' principle. The amount of lift (or buoyancy) provided by a hot air balloon depends primarily upon the difference between the temperature of the air inside the envelope and the temperature of the air outside the envelope. For most envelopes made of nylon fabric, the maximum internal temperature is limited to approximately 250° Fahrenheit.
It should be noted that the melting point of nylon is significantly greater than this maximum operating temperature — about 450°F. However, the lower temperatures are generally used because the greater the temperature, the more quickly the strength of the nylon fabric degrades over time. With a maximum operating temperature of 250°, balloon envelopes can generally be flown for between 400 and 500 hours before the fabric needs to be replaced. Many balloon pilots operate their envelopes at temperatures significantly less than the maximum to extend envelope fabric life.
The heart of the hot air balloon is the burner. The burner unit gasifies liquid propane, mixes it with air, ignites the mixture, and directs the flame and exhaust into the mouth of the envelope. Burners vary in power output; each will generally produce 2 to 3 MW of heat (7 to 10 million BTUs per hour), with double, triple, or quadruple burner configurations installed where more power is needed. The pilot actuates a burner by opening a propane valve, known as a blast valve. The valve may be spring-loaded so that it closes automatically, or it may stay open until closed by the pilot. The burner has a pilot light to ignite the propane and air mixture. The pilot light may be lit by the pilot with an external device, such as a flint striker or a lighter, or with a built-in piezo electric spark.
Where more than one burner is present, the pilot can use one or more at a time depending on the desired heat output. Each burner is characterized by a metal coil of propane tubing the flame shoots through to preheat the incoming liquid propane. The burner unit may be suspended from the mouth of the envelope, or supported rigidly over the basket. The burner unit may be mounted on a gimbal to enable the pilot to aim the flame and avoid overheating the envelope fabric. A burner may have a secondary propane valve that releases propane more slowly and thereby generates a different sound. This is called a whisper burner and is used for flight over livestock to lessen the chance of spooking them. It also generates a more yellow flame and is used for night glows because it lights up the inside of the envelope better than the primary valve.
The balloon launch area is surrounded by the tents and stalls of the sponsoring breweries and wineries. There are ample opportunities to walk about listing to the performing entertainers and purchase varying sizes of beer and wine. During the evening hours the lines waiting for a glass of wine or beer can get quite long, especially during the balloon glow.
This year there were 13 wineries and 7 brewers represented at the festival. A few of the better known wineries were: Wilson Creek, Monte de Oro, South Coast Winery and Spa, Van Roekel, Thornton Winery, and Canyon Crest Winery.
There is a very large food court located just beyond the launch area where you can purchase all varieties of food from bratwurst and burgers to cinnamon buns and ice cream. Also there is a gourmet restaurant located on the perimeter of the launch area where you can get a full meal. However, advanced reservations are needed and it’s quite expensive.
This was our third year visiting the festival and we took our two granddaughters (age 13 and 8) with us. I took my eldest granddaughter on the free tethered balloon ride. This s flight hat is tethered to the ground and rises about 150 feet above the festival grounds. It lasts about 5 minutes. She was quite impressed with the flight. The 8-year old did not want to take the flight as she does not like heights and the noise of the burner frightened her a bit.
After watching the balloons launch we left the festival grounds for some breakfast at Penfold’s, one of Temecula’s more famous breakfast spots. Then we returned home where the girls could take a nap before returning for the 8:30 p.m. balloon glow. A nap was needed as we were up at 4:30 a.m. to get to the festival grounds by 6:00 to see the balloons launch into the cool morning air.
Hot air balloons can reach altitudes 3,000 feet above mean terrain if the ambient air is cool and clear. But at Lake Skinner they hover at about 1,500to 2,000 feet as they float over the vineyards and orange groves making for a great panoramic view of the valley against the distant mountains. The altitude is determined by the temperature of the ambient air.
A balloon ride lasts about 40 minutes and can land 6 or 7 miles from the launch site. Not to worry though as a chase vehicle follows to balloon and is radio contact at al times. Once the balloon comes to earth it is collapsed, folded and loaded onto the trailer with its gondola. The passenger will ride in the van back to the launch site to enjoy the activities at the festival. The price of a balloon ride package is $210.00 per person and includes 45 - 60 minute balloon flight, Souvenir flight certificate. and Champagne and/or orange juice toast. Children: Must be 48 inches tall to participate, and must be accompanied on the flight by an adult. (No price discount for children).
General admission good for all day is $25.00 for adults and $17.00 for juniors (6-12). Children 5 and under are free.
One of the must see highlights is the balloon glow. Seven or eight balloons are inflated in the launch area and when it gets dark (around 8:30 p.m.) the burners are turned on full blast and the balloons are illuminated against the night sky. It’s quite a sight to see and a camera with a fast lens or a tripod is highly recommended. I used a hand-held Nikon D700 with a 35mm/f2.0 lens and shooting at ISO 1400. Even though the D700 is an FX camera (full frame DSLR) that creates very low noise (even at ISO 6400) I still wanted to keep the digital noise a low as possible. It worked just fine. The video I shot was with a Nikon Coolpix P510 that did a great job acquiring HD video. See a short video of the festival below.
My wife and I had a great time with our granddaughters at the festival. The got to learn about hot air balloons and they enjoyed the balloon glow. Kathy and I got our reward in watching the kids get a thrill out of the festival.
While not a large or famous as the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta the Temecula Valley Balloon and Wine Festival is certainly worth a visit.
For a gallery of photos from the festival please click here. To view a larger image of the photos shown click on the photo.