History & Outreach
The Temecula Valley Balloon and Wine Festival, then known as the Rancho California Balloon and Wine Festival, was started in 1983 by Walt Darran, a commercial airline pilot and avid balloonist and by Evelyn Harker a veteran event organizer and fund raiser. Evelyn immediately suggested it might “fly” even better if it involved some of the area’s other natural attractions such as wine tasting, culinary presentations, and entertainment. With an enormous task ahead, the assistance of two other community-minded individuals, Sherry Prysock and Mike Flaherty was enlisted and Evelyn became the first event chairperson. The seed money was provided by Kaiser Development Company and sponsors came from the local community giving what they could with many contributions consisting of in-kind services and products.
At this time, there were only six wineries in the region. The first Balloon and Wine Festival was launched in the Spring of 1984 and was a monumental success for a town of only 9,000 residents. More than 4,000 people were in attendance that year as 35 balloons were launched from the Rancho California Plaza area off Ynez Road (now Tower Plaza). The balloons flew over the serene pastures surrounding the area and the wine tasting was held in the parking lot of the current Tower Plaza.
As the Festival grew, music was added and the event was moved to the Sports Park. In 1986 as the event continued to grow, it was moved to Cherry Avenue and the first ever poster contest was held. From 1987 to 1988, the Festival moved back to the Sports Park and in 1989, it was moved to its current location at Lake Skinner. In the beginning, parking was not even allowed on the Festival park grounds.
In 1988, a landmark year by all accounts, the Festival featured live big name entertainment with the Coasters and Little Anthony and the Imperials. In 1991, the Beach Boys entertained growing crowds of locals and newcomers alike. Some of the early stages were “handmade” by volunteers, a far cry from the sophisticated production in recent years.
In 1991, the Temecula Valley Balloon and Wine Festival Association was formed when the Chamber of Commerce ceased producing the event. The mission statement of this new nonprofit charitable organization was (and still is) to enhance the charitable, cultural, educational and economic development of the region.
During the 1992-1993 festival years, no hot air balloons were launched, but a balloon glow was presented by Paradise Chevrolet in 1993.
While the theme of hot air balloons and wine has always served to anchor the event, each year new attractions have been introduced. The Temecula Valley Balloon and Wine Festival has become a celebration of life with flavor and appeal for everyone and has become the premier event in the beautiful Temecula Valley.
Visitors to the Festival bring business to our community and can enjoy local cuisine, retail stores and they also book numerous hotel/motel rooms and campsites. Local businesses benefit by providing goods, services, products and rentals to the Festival. The infusion of revenue from this attraction boosts the economy of Temecula as well as surrounding areas.
The foremost benefit, mentioned by almost all, is the amazing feeling of community spirit that is fostered year after year, as hundreds of volunteers come together to make magic rise from empty green fields.
The Festival Association returns proceeds to community organizations including the 4-H Club, Boy Scouts, Boys & Girls Clubs of Southwest Riverside County, Rotary Club, Temecula Valley Art League and Temecula Valley Wine Society. In addition, Sports teams from: Murrieta Valley High, Murrieta Mesa High School, Chaparral High, and Great Oaks High are benefactors, as is the Riverside County Volunteer Fire Fighters and the Riverside County Sheriff’s Activity League Cops and Kids Program. Many requests for donated Festival items are received during the year asking for support of fundraising activities on behalf of local organizations including other nonprofits. The Festival continues to respond with donations to many of these organizations to assist in their fundraisers.
For donation requests, please see our Donation Request page.