Balloon and Wine Festival Soars

By Angie Myer There were polka-dot skies this weekend, which can only mean one thing:  the famous Temecula Valley Balloon & Wine Festival.  Launched in 1984, this impressive event is now in its 27th year and—despite the heat—it never fails to disappoint.   This year, the festival starred an impressive lineup of 22 wineries and 22 musical artists—and of course the headliner hot air balloons.  My family and I were fortunate enough to soak in the sun, sights, sounds, and spirits on the final day of the event. Always awake earlier than I want because of my two year old son, it pays off this time of year.  The Festival gave us a great excuse to enjoy the serene morning on our search for “gabloons,” as he calls them.  And onlookers quickly forgave the early 6:30 launch schedule as the balloons elegantly filled the sky.  We lost count at twenty-six, but our favorite was Smokey the Bear—better than a balloon animal at the circus. As the day wore on, the first scorching weekend of the summer did not squelch the fun.  The Lake Skinner venue provided an unexpected amount of cool shade and gentle breezes. We easily found space under the trees to spread our blankets and chairs.  Sun-worshippers enjoyed the area closer to the stage.  And we all soaked up the jazz grooves of the band Present Tense on this surprisingly comfortable Sunday afternoon. Another pleasant surprise was how well-designed and organized the festival area was.  As people who generally shrink from festival crowds, we loved that there was plenty of room for adults to stretch out and unwind and for kids to run and play. Thankfully, it was more like a tranquil country afternoon than a crazed Disneyland excursion. Music in our ears, it was time for wine.  Tasting tickets allowed for six tastes, while wines-by-the-glass were available for those who already found their favorite.  I decided to search out some of the 2010 Temecula Valley Winegrowers Gold Medal Winners.  Briar Rose’s 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon and Lorimar’s Duetto were particular winners for me.  Even on a hot day, these two deep reds were smooth and spectacular. I also had the pleasure of trying Churon Winery’s newly-released 2009 Muscat Canelli.  It was refreshingly cold and sweet but not syrupy, with hints of hibiscus and tangerine.  D’lish!  Churon General Manger Tom Brockert was quick to give credit to his winemaker, Benny Rodriguez, and insisted I visit Benny’s private label. I love that the Balloon & Wine Festival allows us to sample wines we may not have found elsewhere, and Santa Maria Cellars was a great discovery for me.  The Sparkling Wine is my new “Goldilocks Wine:” not too dry, not too sweet…just right.  I am now on a quest to our local eateries and wine retailers for more. Yet, lest we be labeled a valley of wine snobs, the needs of non-wine enthusiasts have also been included.  There were plenty of tall, cold drafts of Stella Artois for my husband and multi-colored shaved ice for my son.  We were also much appreciative for the Kids Faire where the little one could burn off his sugar rush.  While one of us relaxed under the trees, breathing in fine wine and sweet sounds, the other could chase him through the petting zoo and more bounce houses than I knew existed. Next, on my continuing mission to discover more festival food that can be eaten on a stick, I was pleased to come across a yummy yet fresh and homemade BBQ-Chicken-on-a-Stick.  In the midst of the regular corn dog and kettle corn carnival fair, the secret family barbeque recipe from the Chicken Shack was a welcome relief.  Temecula locals Shawn and Patricia Anderson just opened their own mobile BBQ catering company and were more than happy to offer up free samples of their delectable chicken to hungry patrons…and when they can please a picky toddler eater, I’m a happy mama. Finally, one cannot attend a festival without the obligatory shopping excursion.  We found plenty of wonderful and talented vendors, but who would have thought I could get a great deal on Egyptian cotton sheets?  But the prize for the Thing-You-Need-That-You-Didn’t-Know-You Need goes to the super cool Remote Control Beer Pager.  (Seriously!  Google it.)  Wildomar native Richard Stockton created the company with his friend after one too many “Where’s my beer?” conversations.  Now if he could just come up with one for my wine glass, I could find my way back to the Santa Maria Cellars booth. Alas, like a fine wine, the Temecula Valley Balloon & Wine Festival is meant to be savored.  But we just didn’t plan enough time to enjoy all it had to offer, so my husband and I are already recruiting friends to make an entire weekend of it for next year.  First on my 2011 to-do list:  the famous evening Balloon Glow; the exquisite Wine & Food Pairings, expertly matched by local restaurants and wineries; good dirty fun at KFrog’s ongoing Grape Stomping Competition; and of course, more wine, more music…and more bounce houses.  Maybe we’ll even plan ahead and reserve a balloon ride to experience it all from the sky. For things to do in Temecula, the Temecula Valley Balloon & Wine Festival surely soars above the rest!

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