Colorful balloons lit up the night sky over Lake Skinner as individuals from all over Riverside County and elsewhere enjoyed some of the Temecula Valley’s finest vintages.
The park surrounding the lake hosted the 31st Annual Temecula Valley Balloon and Wine Festival; the event saw more than 40,000 people who were interested in enjoying wine, food and live entertainment from May 30-June 1.
Dozens of different food vendors set up shop over the three day weekend and offered up a number of different culinary options. There were traditional fair food staples like funnel cake, polish sausage, carne asada fries and fry bread.
However, the food options didn’t just stop there; several booths offered a trip to the Mediterranean with traditional Greek foods like spanakopita and gyros while others appealed to attendants’ interest in the unusual with items like fried alligator on a stick.
In addition to its food offerings, the event had a number of winery and brewery booths to visit. Some wineries were completely new to the event while others were familiar with it.
The recently opened Lorenzi Estates Winery was serving up its first year vintages of white and red wine. They were offering tastes of their Estate Riesling and Ranch Red.
Brenda Lorenzi, owner of the new winery, described the Riesling as a dessert wine with a mild sweetness that was easy on the
palate. She said the Ranch Red was not a traditional dry red wine and that it was actually best served chilled.
Lorenzi said that as a first timer of the event, she was excited by how smoothly everything was going.
“So far it’s been fun,” she said. “The weather actually has been nice, the bands up on the stage have been awesome and the people we’ve met have been really nice.”
Lorenzi may have been a new face at the event, but Matt Russell of Lorimar Winery has been there for nearly a decade. He used to visit before he worked at Lorimar and has continued to visit as a manager for several of the winery’s departments.
Russell was serving up a number of different varietals alongside his fellow Lorimar pourers that included a White Merlot, Sweet Rosé, Allegro (a combination of Merlot and Petite Syrah), and a fusion wine between 100 year old vines of Zinfandel from Rancho Cucamonga and Petitie Syrah from Lodi.
Russell said it’s been a unique experience to see the event from year to year because of how much it’s grown.
“The sheer size is impressive,” Russell said. “There were just a couple booths and just a couple of no-name bands when I first started to come here and now you’ve got big names on the main stage and booths for as far as you can see.”
“I think as wine country starts to expand you’re going to see this thing just start to take off,” he said.
The bands playing on each night of the event always elicited crowds. The first night featured a number of country singers before Justin Moore took the stage at 8:30 p.m.
On Saturday, the Gin Blossoms and 3 Doors Down rocked out before a crowd that consisted of thousands of spectators. Those spectators packed the space before the amphitheater, which was dubbed the “Pechanga Main Stage.”
Sunday offered something different, as Jimmy Fitzpatrick and other members of the Metal Mulisha did stunts and tricks before a captivated audience.
The event seemed to draw in people from parts of Riverside County near and far, and many of the individuals who visited the event were first timers.
That was the case for Hemet residents Angel Gonzalez and Monique Gonzalez, who decided to check the event out on Sunday after seeing it advertised near where they live.
The couple said they were excited to try some of the wines and enjoy some other aspects of the event, but they were most excited by the opportunity to see the hot air balloons.
“Seeing the balloons up close was a really awesome experience,” Monique Gonzalez said.
Each night of the event featured a balloon glow where more than half a dozen hot air balloons were set up and in the central area of the festival grounds.
Event attendants would count down from five before yelling “blow” and the balloons would simultaneously light up by using hot air flames.
Melody Brunsting, public relations specialist for the event, said she thought it went quite smoothly, but she also said the 400 volunteers and 30 chairmen of the event are always thinking up ways to make it better for the next year.
“After 31 years we still keep learning to do it better,” Brunsting said.