How we got started ?

In 1979 three commercial airline pilots introduced one of the very first hot air balloons to Sonoma. This original Grape Cluster design named ‘Sonoma Thunder’ became a well known mascot in the Wine Country and was awarded a Registered California Trademark.

In 1984 Scott van der Horst, a veteran pilot from from Michigan was hired to fly their quickly growing number of passengers. Scott initially flew only two passengers at a time, and then adding larger balloons managed the fledgling company to become the most enduring and successful balloon operations in the region.

Our current fleet of 7 beautiful balloons can accommodate groups of 2-3, 4-6, 8-10, 10-12 and 16-20 passengers each. The 10th anniversary reincarnation of the original ‘Sonoma Thunder’ balloon was renamed ‘Cluster’s Last Stand’ and still participates in ballooning events around the country.

Meet Our Experience Pilots

Scott Van Der Horst

Chief Pilot

Scott is the chief pilot in charge of operations for Wine Country Balloons and has been flying balloons since 1970 throughout Europe and North and Central America. In addition to teaching numerous professional local balloon pilots to fly, he has performed 85% of the flights for this company since 1984, accumulating more than 8000 hours flying hot air balloons and and personally hosted more than 50,000 passengers. In addition to ballooning Scott produces, directs and performs on live stage and television.

Michael Vargas


Formally educated in aeronautical sciences at San Jose State University, Michael already had a commercial license in fixed wing aviation when he decided to become a balloon pilot. When he’s not flying he’s a full time Dad for 4 teenagers. He also works within the medical industry maintaining monitoring equipment for hospitals.