The Temecula Valley Balloon & Wine Festival Review - Up, Up and Away

The 26th Annual Temecula Valley Balloon & Wine Festival took place on June 5th-7th near picturesque Lake Skinner. Founded in 1983, the Balloon & Wine Festival has been one of the premiere events of Riverside County, providing an opportunity for some 40,000 visitors to gather annually to this Southwest California festival location. 

Hot Air Balloons soar over beautiful Lake Skinner

The Festival kicked off Saturday morning at 6:00am as over 25 Hot Air Balloons prepared to take to the skies. This particular event  provides the largest Arts and Crafts Festival in Southern California Wine Country with over 175 vendors.  Vendors represented a number of different products including, clothing, jewelry, go green items, collectibles, health care, beauty,  home improvement, fine arts, home decoration, prepackaged foods, cellular phones, and even body art.

An Oxygen Bar was one of the many vendors at the festival

11 non-profit organizations were also represented. I visited Chille Ville, an   Oxygen Bar and rejuvenation station, where  I was treated to a sampling of oxygen, each with different names like Lemon Grass, Choco-Holic and Sublime. There were 17 Temecula Valley Wineries represented with over 35 food Vendors. The event also sponsored a Festival Poster Contest, which was won by 24-year-old Heather Pilapil, whose pastel painting took top honors.

A local hat vendor helped keep people in the shade

In addition to all the other activities, the festival offered up an amazing line-up of live entertainment. Friday evening launched with singer/songwriter James Otto whose hit single "Just Got Started Loving' You" was #1 on the Billboard's Country Charts and went on to become the number one song on Billboard's year end 2008 Hot Country Songs chart.

Singer/Songwriter James Otto helped kicked off the Festival Friday Night

Otto is well recognized as a songwriter for having penned "Song of the Violin" for Randy Travis and "Easy Money" for John Anderson. Otto's music has also been heard in the feature film "Larry the Cable Guy: Health Inspector" where he performed Lynard Skynyrd's "Call Me the Breeze" for the soundtrack album.
Otto also wrote "I Can't Love You Anymore" for Gar Nichols and has a song on EA Games' NASCAR '07.

Sugar Ray lit up the stage Saturday night

Saturday's line-up included California's own homegrown band Sugar Ray, known for their summery hits like "Fly" and "Every Morning". Sugar Ray first hit the airwaves with their pop rock #1 hit the summer of 1997. To date, the group has sold more than eight million records worldwide. Lead singer Mark McGrath is also known for hosting " The Pussycat Dolls Present: The Search for the next Doll" as well as hosting "Extra" for several seasons.

Mark McGrath is the talented frontman for Sugar Ray

McGrath has also been a guest judge on " American Idol" and made several guest appearances on a variety of television dramas. Other notable performers included Oscar and Grammy nominated Patty Smyth and Scandal whose song "Goodbye To You" was a #1 MTV video. Other hits include "Loves Got A Line On You", "The Warrior" and "Look What Love Has Done". Also playing on Saturday afternoon was the world famous band Starship, featuring Mickey Thomas.

Singer/songwriter Patty Smythe also performed on Saturday

There was also a  " Kids Faire", a portion of the grounds dedicated to the children. This area included an assortment of giant inflatable slides, including a Lions Mouth, NASCAR, and even a slide based upon the Disney Pixar film, "Cars".  There was definitely a race car theme with a series of "faux" race cars hooked together and towed by a lead car, where families could sit with their kids and be driven around the play area.

One of the many kiddie slides in the Kids Faire area

There were also traditional pony rides, a petting zoo, and an indoor interactive area where the kids could pet a snake that was held by one of the animal wranglers. The children were also fascinated and educated with an assortment of various  lizards and reptiles (in dry aquariums) and even a kangaroo. Once the kids were inside, they didn't seem to want to leave.

An animal wrangler shows off his pet python at the Kids Faire

At the end of the day, there was a grand announcement of the People's Choice Awards for the Festival Wine Competition. Peoples choice winners were: “Best Booth” -  La Cereza, “Best Red Cabernet” – Plateau Vineyards, “Best Blush – Merlot Rose" - Southcoast Resort & Winery, “Best White – Keyways Winery Riesling, and “Best Sparkling” – Wilson Creek Winery.

Temecula Valley Wine Country

For the first time, Bronze, Silver and Gold Medal Wines were judged by a panel of experts. This years Gold Medal winners were, “Sparkling” – Weins Family Cellars for Amour de l’Orange, “Dry White” - South Coast Resort & Winery for 2008 GVR; “Sweet White” – Keyways for 2007 Riesling; “Single Varietal Red” – Briar Rose Winery for 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon and “Dessert” – Filsinger Winery for 2007 Orange Muscat.

An FMX daredevil performs an aerial stunt

As if Hot Air Ballooning, Wine Tasting, Gourmet Food and top notch Musical Acts weren't enough, there was even a Freestyle Motocross Show sponsored by The Pechanga Resort and Casino.  This incredible high flying freestyle show featured motocross stars from around the world, including, Jimmy Fitzpatrick, Todd Potter, Taka, Ox-Jeff Cargola, Wes Agee, Ryan Hagy, and even some riders from Australia and Brazil. (Evil Kneivel would have been proud) as these daredevils performed death defying stunts on their motocross bikes.

"Survivor" rocked the festival on Sunday

Sunday's activities included a wine and food pairing event featuring four courses from executive chefs and wines specifically paired for each course. Sunday's festival and concert wrapped up with Survivor, the 80's rock band known for such Billboard top 20 hits including "The Search is Over", "High on You" and "I Can't Hold Back". The crowd went wild as Survivor kicked into their grand finale with "Eye of the Tiger" which became the theme song and synonymous with the Sylvester Stallone film "Rocky III".

"Survivor" proved the band still has it

I could see in the eyes of some of the older crowd they were still fans, instantly transported back in time through the music to a wilder time in Rock 'n Roll history. Even the younger audience "got it" and was into the music. It was a great way to end an amazing weekend of wine, food, balloons and award-winning music. Take a tip from me, put the Temecula Valley Balloon and Wine Festival on you calendar for next year. Bring some friends or the whole family for an incredible weekend of events, and I'll see you there.

For more information on the Temecula Balloon & Wine Festival, go to the website at

For more information on the City of Temecula, go to

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