Flying High in the Sky: Where the sun shines through the mist

2602-29The Temecula Valley in southern California is known for it exceptional vineyards, lush countryside, and a morning mist that sparkles in the early sun. The days are brilliant and golden and at night, cold air blows in across the valley from the Pacific Ocean. This is an ideal environment for growing some of the finest grapes harvested on the west coast. The perfect temperatures and picturesque countryside also makes Temecula Valley a wonderful place to ride through the skies in a hot air balloon. What better way to view the vineyards than on a floating dream carriage in the wind?

The invention of the hot air balloon in France over 200 years ago made this dream experience possible. Today there are thousands of companies all over the world that offer this thrilling sky sport. What distinguishes one balloon ride from another is the setting over which it travels. Temecula Valley’s inspirational landscape makes it an excellent choice for embarking on a maiden hot air balloon voyage.

In the Temecula Valley, the best time to climb aboard a hot air balloon is before the sun rises. This predawn experience bathed in the mist from the mountains, is magical indeed. The sound of the roaring burners filling up the large balloon with hot air in the darkness is daunting. Then, rising up from the ground with a balloon into the awakening horizon is unforgettable. Exclamations of wonderment echo as the sun bursts into view.

232323Temecula, located 500 miles south of San Francisco, receives a great deal of solar intensity due to a slightly higher angle to the sun. It is centrally located between San Diego and Los Angeles. A look at the native chaparral shows that Temecula is a low rainfall region. These two factors create an early growing season that generally runs from March through September. The harvest season is rarely interrupted by rain—a very important factor in wine quality and hot air balloon riding. The Mountain Vineyards of Temecula are located 1,400 feet to 1,600 feet above sea level. The surrounding mountains average 2,000 to 3,000 feet elevation. These high elevations mean cooler air—a temperature drop of three for every 1,000 feet of altitude gain (source: CVB Temecula Valley).

The great height of the Mountain Vineyards and the fact that Temecula is surrounded by mountains offer a dreamy landscape for ballooning. Although there are many organizations in the region that offer balloon excursions, one of the premier hot air balloon companies in Temecula Valley is California Dreamin (800-373-3359). In addition to the rides, guests can receive wine tasting tickets, bed and breakfast accommodations, and winery tours as part of the package. The pilots have years of experience maneuvering the balloon flights through the mountains and offer a wealth of information on vineyards, good wines, and the sprawling vistas below.

The predawn flight offered by California Dreamin begins with hot coffee and cocoa at La Vindemia, a private vineyard in the middle of Temecula Wine Country. The large wooden European balloon baskets offer plenty of room for comfort and photo taking. As the sun breaks through the mountains, a dreamscape sky appears and a breakfast with Mimosas, a mix of fine local champagne and fresh California orange juice, is served. Toasting the beauty of the day is a ritual on the flight as the balloon floats over rolling hills, country estates, and ranches. Sometimes the basket drops so low that it brushes the tops of citrus trees close enough for grabbing an orange and then it floats up to several thousand feet, eliciting laughter from the passengers. The skilled pilot has the ability to turn the balloon using rotation vents, offering panoramic views of famous wineries such as Mount Palomar, Long Shadows, and Stuart Cellars. The whole experience takes about three hours from the time you arrive to the time you softy land somewhere in the magnificent Temecula Valley.

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After the flight, guests enjoy a gourmet breakfast in La Vindemia’s private rose garden. Fresh fruits from the nearby orchards are served with a spread of homemade baked breads and pastries. For special occasions like birthdays and anniversaries, a celebration can be arranged that includes banners and bouquets of California roses.

23232323For a romantic excursion, there is a sunset balloon ride that drifts over the Pacific Ocean and coastal bluffs surrounding Del Mar. California Dreamin’s crew glides the colorful balloon through the peaceful kaleidoscope sky for a perfect moment in time. With romance in the air, many wistful couples choose to propose on this champagne-toasting excursion.

Prices range from $200 on up per person depending on the day of the week and the additional optional selections made for the trip. Wine tasting at the local vineyards is highly recommended as the wine from this region is known to showcase its fruit and does not have the woodsy taste that some of the region’s barrel wines have. There is also the wonderful nearby South Coast Winery Resort and Spa (866-994-6379) where luxurious cottages are available for overnight stays. This is a full service spa with every type of pampering available. The California Dreamin company picks up guests at the resort and takes them directly to the launching area for balloon rides.

California Dreamin also offers bi-plane flights for the same cost as the balloon flights. These tiny double-winged planes do a dawn patrol to observe the beauty of the many colorful balloons drifting in the wind. There is also a rum run ride that cruises over the grape valleys in playful flight patterns. The rides are a fun addition to any balloon experience.

The Luiseno Indians named Temecula "a land where the sun shines through the mist." The Temecula Valley is well worth a visit for its wonderful wines and the mythical mist that makes hot air ballooning here so spectacular.

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