As I mentioned, this excursion started *early.* By 6:15am we were on site and watching the balloons being prepared for flight. First the bags are inflated with giant fans,
then the air is heated with propane jets. The warmer air inside the balloon is lighter than the surrounding air, thus creating lift.
Soon after, we were airborne.
We mostly cruised at about an altitude of 2000-2500 ft. The winds were very light, so we drifted slowly down the valley. There's no steering a hot air balloon; you go where the wind takes you.
Looking back up the valley, northward toward Saint Helena.
And south toward the city of Napa and San Pablo Bay.
Another southward view.
And westward toward the Mt. Veeder region.
The balloon bag itself was 85 feet tall and 65 feet wide. You can see the flames from the propane jet, which puts out a LOT of heat! Other than the occasional noise of the jets, you float silently and smoothly through the air. It's very serene.
After drifting slowly southward for about an hour, the landing site was decided upon. Above, the first of our four balloons touches down.
The ground crews work quickly to deflate the balloon and pull to the side so passengers can safely exit the basket.
The second balloon was a little off target, so a line was dropped to the ground crew who pulled it to the correct landing spot.
Our pilot landed us "on a dime" in the desired spot. To quickly deflate the bag, there's a very large vent on the top that the pilot opens once we're on the ground. The crews then "milk" the air out of the balloon from bottom to top up through the vent, and tie the bag up for transport. They have several sites in the valley where they have permission to land, but want to get out of the way quickly as this is a working vineyard with a harvest in progress.
After landing we were picked up in vans and taken back to Domaine Chandon for a champagne brunch. I've had few days that have begun in such a fabulous way.
If you're interested, the company we rode with was Napa Valley Balloons. Une femme enthusiastically recommends!