Sonoma Wine Country Weekend: Hot Air Ballooning Over the Vineyards

WOW! sums up my first hot air ballooning experience. My husband surprised me for my birthday with the trip during our Sonoma Wine Country Weekend. What a way to see wine country!

It was an early morning start but so worth it. We met the Up & Away crew at the Sonoma County Airport. Conditions were perfect so we headed over to an area on the runway to prep for take off. It was a chilly clear morning (dress in layers) but we warmed up quickly as we assisted the crew. It starts out slowly…laying out tarps, unrolling the balloon, cold inflating with a giant fan…then they fire up the burners and things literally heat up.

Our balloon, Sonoma Star, was inflating nicely just as the other two balloons going up that morning were. We were lucky enough to be in a private ride with our pilot Jimmy. Then the winds started to shift and our balloon started to blow sideways. The crew rushed to try to keep it inflating evenly. There was talk of having to start over. The other balloons were almost done. When the wind shifted again, Sonoma Star started to rise as we all held onto the basket to keep it down. Jimmy instructed us to jump in the basket… and we were off. Suddenly it was quiet and we were floating up into the air looking at the other two balloons below us. Incredible… this must be what it feels like to fly!

For the next seventy-five minutes we floated where Mother Nature took us…winds driving us south to Santa Rosa. It was a quiet still Sunday morning, not a cloud in the sky, it warmed as the sun rose in the sky. The only noise came when Jimmy fired up the burners. We floated over houses, waved good morning to people, scared a few horses and cows, and just enjoyed the majestic views of the vineyards, many still full of color, the mountains in the distance with the fog laying close yet to burn off.

The crew stayed in touch and tracked us on the ground. Then came the fun part…where to land? We couldn’t quite make it to our destination as the winds calmed so we wound up landing in a nice open field. The crew caught up with us to help. And then two other ‘crews’ who had been following us showed up…two cars full of little boys insisting their parents follow us for the last thirty minutes. :) Jimmy brought us down safely and the boys helped pack up the balloon.

After all the excitement we headed over the Kendall Jackson Winery Estate for a champagne brunch in their vineyards. Mike, owner of Up and Away, was there to greet and thank us.

Everyone, including our hotel The Farmhouse Inn, recommends Up and Away. They do private balloon rides, groups (one of the balloons up with us held about 10 people) and even do weddings in the balloons!!

Put this on your lifetime MUST GO list. It’s a phenomenal experience!

Visit the gallery for more great photos from the trip.

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