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Temecula Valley Balloon and Wine Festival celebrates its 40th anniversary

Jacob Aere
Two inflated hot air balloons on the ground at the Temecula Valley Balloon and Wine Festival at Lake Skinner in Winchester, Calif. May 18, 2023

The Temecula Valley Balloon and Wine Festival celebrates its 40th anniversary this weekend. It's a milestone for an idea that started in an empty parking lot in the middle of what was then a small town.

Like the city of Temecula itself, the festival has grown over the years, and eventually moved out of that empty lot to Lake Skinner, outside the city limits.

"It just got too big and evolved out to this festival, where there'll be almost 40,000 people coming out here this weekend and 1,300 volunteers," said Kim Kelliher, the chairwoman of the board for the Temecula Valley Chamber of Commerce.


The celebration is all about what makes Temecula, Temecula.

"The Balloon and Wine Festival is about coming out and enjoying the great outdoors. Lake Skinner is a magnificent property," Kelliher said. "Maybe you’re doing a little camping, definitely wine tasting, beer tasting, there's tons of food. And the music. It's all about the wine, the music, and the balloons!"

Balloon pilot Brian Lynch said the festival helped create a relationship between the wineries and the balloonists, helping to put Temecula on the map and boosting its economy.

He said there’s just something about Temecula that makes it perfect for ballooning.

"It's a really beautiful thing ... the sun rises on the east and the desert swell pushes the marine layer back, is what makes it so perfect for ballooning here," Lynch said. "Thirty years ago ballooning picked up more and more and it brought tourists out here."


Lynch and his family operate Reach for the Stars, a nonprofit foundation that shares hot air ballooning with people with physical challenges, with special balloons designed to accommodate a wheelchair, walkers and people with special needs.

Lynch demonstrated how the balloon gondola has been made accessible, with a ramp and an entry gate wide enough for a wheelchair. There’s also a cut-out viewing window for a passenger sitting in a wheelchair and a special seat with a five point harness for any person who cannot stand for a balloon flight.

The balloon is named “Pala Spirit,” to honor Pala Casino, which donated funds for the balloon. The casino is also a major sponsor of the festival.

"Our organization had the first wheelchair accessible balloon, and now since we have two of them, thanks to the donation by Pala, we have the largest fleet," Lynch said.

Pala Spirit will join the other balloons that will fill the skies each morning during the festival. The balloons are launched at sunrise, when it’s cool, and land early before temperatures get too hot.

Later in the day, visitors can buy a ticket for a tethered balloon ride, where the balloon only rises 50 to 75 feet above the ground. “People get to enjoy (ballooning) without necessarily taking the big leap,” Lynch said.

When night falls, balloons are kept on the ground, where people can see them glowing with the light of their propane burners. “It’s really pretty. Everyone loves it. By then everyone's had some wine. So it's a good time," Lynch said.

The event kicks off Friday and ends on Sunday evening.