Blowing up the balloon

The wind wasn’t cooperating for Bennett Lane Winery’s inaugural hot air balloon flight on Aug. 15. For normal outings, the 67 foot high soaring craft will take off from a brand new launch pad built between the vineyard and the winery production building on Highway 128 approximately two miles north of downtown Calistoga.

Yet with breezes playing games, the balloon operators, Calistoga Balloons, decided that an open liftoff from a nearby Hidden Valley mountain meadow was a better plan.

Such are the whim of hot air balloons and Mother Nature, and as the first winery-branded hot air balloon in California Wine Country, the Bennett Lane aircraft deserves to enjoy its whims. Its six passengers certainly didn’t seem to mind, taking in glorious views from the brown woven basket, and including Bennett Lane Winery owners Randy and Lisa Lynch, plus a special guest, World Series Champion Manager Tony La Russa, who has long been a Lynch family friend.

After its successful tour, the propane-powered air ship was officially christened: Calistoga AVA-tion.

It’s surprising that no winery has ever manned a balloon in Napa Valley before. The typical one-hour Bennett-branded voyage carries six passengers on a journey lush vineyards and rolling hills below from approximately 3,000 feet in the air – it seems like such a natural indulgence to pair with indulgent wines like the signature Maximus, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, Malbec and Petit Verdot.

The Bennett Lane Winery balloon endured a long flight just to get to its new home in Calistoga. It was built by Kubicek Balloons in the Czech Republic, taking more than a month of sewing to create the balloon’s 142,400 cubic foot envelope, crafted from 16,000 square feet of special ripstop polyester fabric that spans a diameter of 65 feet. The custom purple of the Bennett Lane logo of grape clusters took another 25 days of dying, and a team of designers studied the balloon shape and lift patterns to determine exactly how and where to place the logos so they could be viewed from multiple angles from the ground.

More than just an advertising opportunity, the Bennett Lane Winery balloon will be a guest amenity for the upscale winery. Flown in partnership with Calistoga Balloons, choices include private flights for two, four or six people, or in a group. Private flights include a sleek, fitted Bennett Lane flight jacket, brunch at the Michelin-star Restaurant at Meadowood, and a private reserve tasting at Bennett Lane Winery following the flight. Group flights feature a Bennett Lane flight hat, brunch at The Restaurant at Meadowood, and a tour, tasting and picnic lunch at Bennett Lane.

Details: Bennett Lane Winery, 3340 Highway 128, Calistoga, 707-942-6684, Private package are $1999, $2399 and $2899 for two, four and six people respectively; group flights cost $339 per guest.

Tip: Make it an even fancier flight with limo service to-and-from the balloon launch. And worry not about your noble driver waiting for you as you fly – Bennett Lane has just installed a comfortable lounge for limo drivers, featuring TV, complimentary snacks and drinks, Lazy Boy arm chairs, and wi-fi.

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