Through the years, Temecula has crafted its identity with its Old Town, wineries and other landmarks, such as Pechanga Resort Casino. The city has even captured the attention of outsiders like “Breaking Bad” actor Dean Norris, a Temecula resident who plans to open a new restaurant in the city and “Saturday Night Live” writers, who wrote a skit based on the area.
However, in the ’80s, Temecula was still very much under development. A U.S. Census Bureau report showed the Murrieta-Temecula population at 10,215 in the ’80s and 27,099 in the ’90s. Community members at the time knew that if they could present visitors with the marvels of their beloved city in the valley, they’d embrace it wholeheartedly.
That’s why the Temecula Balloon & Wine Festival was created and it will now celebrate its 40th anniversary at the Lake Skinner Regional Park and Recreation Area in Winchester on May 19-21.
A Community Affair
Alice Sullivan Meyer, the former CEO of the Temecula Valley Chamber of Commerce, was hired full-time in the early ’90s to help with the festival. She credits the ongoing event’s success with volunteer power driven by Temecula residents who continue to put in long hours and provide special skills.
In a recent phone interview, Meyer recalled a volunteer who was an electrical engineer and ensured all the electrical services were up to par for the events. She said he refused payment because he believed in their mission of showing visitors the value of their city.
“It was everyone working together in the community to bring people here, so they could come out and visit Temecula and hopefully one day bring their businesses out here and additional housing and jobs to the area,” Meyer said.
The festival, which started in 1983, put its community assets at the forefront, which featured local music acts, beauty pageants, wines and balloon rides that offered an aerial view of the city. This year’s celebration will continue to spotlight those local aspects, but will host more notable entertainment acts, including country superstar Brad Paisley, classic rockers REO Speedwagon and country artist Scotty McCreery.
Scott Soares, president of the Temecula Balloon & Wine Festival board, said in a phone interview that the festival’s proceeds continue to go back into the community in scholarships and other donations to non-profit groups such as Reach for the Stars Hot Air Balloon Foundation, which provides hot air balloon rides to people with disabilities.
The portion of the proceeds that stay with the city isn’t the only community tradition that lives on. The festival also still accepts volunteers, the foundation that built up the festival and the Temecula community.
“Everyone moved from different areas, but we all wanted to have a high quality of life and that had always been the mission and the importance of everyone working together,” Meyer said. “I really do feel that this is why the community has prospered to what it is today.”
Up, Up and Away
There will be plenty of balloon rides offered during the festival. The balloons will hover above Lake Skinner and the Temecula Valley wineries and vineyards. These balloon rides are only available Saturday and Sunday mornings. They must be reserved on the festival’s website and check-in is at 6 a.m. each morning. Tickets are $300 with a maximum of four people per reservation.
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The festival will also offer tethered balloon rides, anchored to the ground with special ropes that only allow it to rise to about 50–75 feet and hover briefly with its passengers then slowly descend. Check-in for tethered balloon rides begins at 6 a.m., and balloons float up at 7 a.m. for approximately two hours. Tickets are $20, and early arrival is highly recommended as these tethered rides tend to sell out quickly. Spectators are invited to watch the balloons take off at 6-8 a.m. with early festival admission for $20.
“It’s at sunrise, and the Temecula Valley is known to have a cooler, dewy morning in late May, so make sure that you have whatever you’re going to require for cooler damp weather,” Soares said. “As long as you’re not afraid of heights, you’ll be able to enjoy a great view of the Lake Skinner Recreation Park, houses and the wine country.”
On Friday, May 19 and Saturday, May 20, the festival will host the Balloon Glow featuring an assemblage of hot air balloons illuminated by propane burners contrasted against the night sky. The event begins at 8:30 p.m. each night and is included with festival admission.
Leveling Up Entertainment
Soares said this year’s prominent entertainment acts are possible due to their partnership with Pala Casino Spa & Resort. Most years, the sets focused on local artists, but this year’s landmark 40-year celebration brings in major headliners.
“We’ve been able to put a new value on entertainment, and that’s taken us to a new and exciting level,” he said.
The music acts will perform on the Pala Casino Main Stage and the secondary Wine Stage during all three festival days and comprise several country artists, including Brad Paisley, Scotty McCreery, Colt Ford, Moonshine Bandits, Sara Evans, Tenile Arts and Callista Clark. It will also feature rock acts such as REO Speedwagon, Night Ranger, John Waithe and the British ska band, The English Beat.
Cuisine and Libations
Soares said about 30 food vendors will participate in the festival alongside local and outside wineries and breweries.
“We’ve actually invited some outside wineries that are still within the Southern California region, from Orange County, San Diego, Santa Barbara, Ventura and others to join us to help us celebrate,” he said.
Some of this year’s wine selections include Europa Village, Mahogany Mountain Winery and La Fleur’s Winery. All wineries at the Wine Stage will pour from 3-9 p.m. on Friday, 11 a.m.-9 p.m. on Saturday and 11 a.m.-5 p.m. on Sunday.
The beer selection will include Garage Brewing Co., Stone Church Brewing, Oscar’s Brewing Co. and Wild Barrel Brewing Company.
Beverage tickets are $30-$90 and can be purchased on the festival’s website or in person from 3-8:30 p.m. Friday, 10 a.m.-8:30 p.m. on Saturday and 10 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Sunday.
Temecula Balloon & Wine Festival
When: 3-10 p.m. Friday, May 19; 6 a.m.-10 p.m. Saturday, May, 20; 6 a.m.-6 p.m. Sunday, May 21.
Where: Lake Skinner Regional Park and Recreation Area, 37701 Warren Road, Winchester.
Tickets: Friday single-day tickets are $60 and Saturday and Sunday single-day tickets are $80. Three-day general admission tickets are $120 and three-day tickets with access to the Chardonnay section at the main stage are $425. The three-day VIP tickets, including access to VIP sections at the main stage, catered dinners on Friday and Saturday, lunch on Sunday and four complimentary drinks per day are $760. Camping packages are currently sold out. Parking is $15-$150. All passes and more information can be found at tvbwf.com.