Wine Festival, California Style: Hot Air Balloons, Wineries & Live Music

California is the wine capitol of the United States, with well over 6000 wineries currently in existence, so it’s not surprising that a wine festival is a regular occurrence in this gorgeous state. Wine country is officially in northern California, to include Napa and Sonoma, but southern California is no slouch. The biggest array of wineries in close proximity is in the Temecula Valley, so this weekend, we attended the Temecula Valley Balloon and Wine Festival. Wine, food, pop-up boutiques, hot air balloons, and live music — what a great way to spend a weekend, right?

Attending a Wine Festival Like The Temecula Balloon and Wine Festival

wine festival at the Temecula Balloon and Wine Festival 2024

This three-day wine festival is held at the Lake Skinner Recreational Center, a wide open space with RV campsites in the shadow of low mountains and on the edge of the lake. When you’re up in the air in one of the balloons, you can see for miles, shades of browns, greens and blues. It’s an incredible place to float above the landscape, seeing the spreads of wineries and vineyards, getting a perspective you’ll never get while your feet are on the ground.

wine festival at the Temecula Balloon and Wine Festival 2024

If you’re a camper, you can purchase a campsite for the entire weekend; you can also go just with a day pass, but VIP packages are available. On Friday, the festival starts in the afternoon, but both Saturday and Sunday are later morning. Tethered balloon rides are only available very early each day, and a limited number of untethered rides are available, though those need to be purchased in advance.

The ride in and out can take some time due to both entry and exit routes being the same road that’s one lane in each direction; only once you get to the entry gate do you separate from the RVs, which come in pretty heavy on Fridays, so plan for that. (It took us 35 minutes from the time we got to the entry road up to the gate, where our advanced parking ticket allowed us to go around to the side without waiting any further.)

The setup is expansive, so wear comfortable shoes and layers; we saw a lot of cold people in shorts and pretty summer dresses at night after the sun went down. All wine and beer are available via drink tickets only, which you purchase at various booths around the venue; each ticket costs $3, and you’ll need one ticket for a one-ounce pour and four tickets for a full glass of wine or beer. Food is available from a long list of food trucks, with just about any type of food or dietary restriction available. I ended up getting a plate of mulitas al pastor, and of course, many, many wine tastes throughout the evening.

When wine tasting at a wine festival, keep in mind proper order of tasting. It is always suggested that you start with the white wines first before you move onto the red. Don’t be afraid to speak up and ask your questions! Winemakers love to answer questions — and if they don’t, don’t be afraid to step back and head to another booth. We’ve had booths at events tend to favor a particular group already at the counter while letting others flounder or wait, or go without questions answered; this is not the norm, and you may not experience it, but if you do, it’s okay to smile and walk away. Or just walk away, because there is no stereotypical wine lover or wine learner. Don’t let anyone make you feel insignificant or less valuable.

If you aren’t a red wine lover, don’t force yourself if you’re not feeling it. We started as white wine lovers only, but once we slowly segued into trying reds, we learned what we’d been missing out on. Now, I really am not a fan of sweet white wines, or even rosés. (Don’t come for me! I can’t help it. I do love the rosé from Eberle in Paso Robles, but that’s about it.) Experimenting with new profiles can be fun, especially if you can dump it out if you don’t like it. Don’t worry about offending anyone if you do this — they literally do it every morning if they have any open wine bottles from the day before and they want to taste before serving.

When you’re at a wine festival, you can be excited to start fast and to take a ‘go big or go home’ approach, because there is so much wine available. Start slow! Scope out the wineries in attendance and start with some you know, if there are any you’re familiar with. This helps you prep for trying new wines, by waking up your palate with something you know you enjoy. If you start with a new winery and you don’t like it, you’ll need to eat something before you try another wine.

One of our favorites was Mount Palomar. Their staff were kind and helpful, and their wines were one of our favorite two wines that day. You need to try their Sangiovese and their Viognier!

We tried several tastings, then got a full glass, and then did it again. We were able to patronize the wineries that we already liked while giving fair time to new ones. If you really want to get into it, keep a small bag of crackers with you! It sounds silly, but cleansing your palate is really a thing. I didn’t purchase the wine glass that came with this year’s festival, not only because my wine glass shelf is getting pretty full, but because I didn’t want the tastes to blend and not everyone rinses your glass out before giving you a new taste. The plastic cups available at the wineries ensured you had no residue from a prior varietal still in the cup.

Also, STAY HYDRATED. Water is available for sale, and you want to avoid headaches. You also want to pace yourself, and do not drink and drive. Rideshares are available at the rideshare tent, or come with a designated driver or someone who isn’t into wine as much as they are the music.

Enjoy the live music! It’s all on the grass, whether it’s the band on the wine stage, or the bigger names on the main stage. You can bring your folding chairs and blankets to set out earlier to save spaces. The front of the stage is solely for VIP ticket holders so you’ll be behind that fenced area, but there’s no bad spot. No awnings/umbrellas are allowed, so wear a hat if you’re worried about the sun.

Lastly, be patient. Traffic getting in can be slow, as I mentioned, but traffic getting out is just like any other concert. Lots of people leave at the same time and there is just the one way out. And be patient at the vendor booths as well; they are busy, and they are dealing with some people who imbibe too much. Those same people can be a little stumbly as the night goes on, so give space as you walk around. It is a family event, so there are children around though we saw less as the evening went on.

If you’re interested in any wine festival, California style or otherwise, follow wine organizations and chambers of commerce in those cities or counties. You’ll often see advance notification of ticket sales. A wine festival is a wonderful way to spend a spring or summer day!

Similar Posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *