David La Baume is American, but a true lover of France, a land that he discovered essentially when he chose to become a hot-air balloon pilot. He set up bases in various regions of France -including Loire Valley and Champagne- and explains to us why Burgundy was an obvious choice.
David, you’re American. How did you get here?
I’m American, yes. I actually grew up in New Jersey. After university, I decided to travel. I went from Florida to the Virgin Islands by boat. There, I met a French skipper who asked me if I’d be interested in bringing one of his sailboats back to France. And this is how I got here, in France.
What happened next?
I attended university in Nantes for a year where I learned French, then started a job in a barge-hotel. I soon became the captain of barge-hotel and spent almost four years navigating on French canals. During this experience, I met a hot-air balloon professional, he was American actually, who was taking his clients on 3-weeks long cruises in France. He was taking them on hot-air balloon rides in the evenings. I was fascinated! And I soon realized that this was what I really wanted to do. I decided to pass my pilot certification and trained through many flight hours, almost 950 hours in total. Quite soon, I was able to offer introductory flights to my clients on the boat, combining two jobs as barge captain and hot-air balloon pilot.
Why did you decide to launch your company, France Montgolfières?
I chose to start this company in 1986, as I wanted to focus on balloon rides. I left my job as a captain on the barge but I kept offering ballooning excursions to other boat companies. At that time, we had two balloons, each one of them could welcome up to six people.
What is so special about hot-air balloons? Why did you decide to focus on this activity?
I had a crush on balloons as soon as I saw the first one, from my boat. At first, I was not imagining this as a full-time job but at least as a hobby. France is an ideal country for balloons. The landscapes are amazing, so different from one region to another. There are so many “châteaux” here, I don’t think people realize this! The only way to notice this is to observe from above. Some “châteaux” owners even let us take off from their grounds, which are perfect for us as their tall trees which offer the best protection we can get from the wind.
Do you consider the hot-air balloon as a “sustainable” product?
Contrary to helicopters, balloons are not noisy at all and consume a small amount of fuel. It’s quite easy to manipulate, you just let the wind guide you! The balloon itself with the wicker basket is also a natural product. The envelope is made of fabric. When they cannot be used anymore, we send them to our partners for upcycling (as shopping bags, mattresses…).
What are the values you want to share with your clients?
Every flight is a new discovery. I remember some places where we landed that are completely inaccessible by car. I remember one flight in particular, with the Court Supreme Chief of Canada. The balloon landed in a field, in the middle of nowhere and it attracted all the farmers from the surrounding area. They were fascinated by this uncommon engine. This was an unforgettable moment, to see all these different people gathering here, around the balloon. Generally speaking, each balloon flight is a source of unexpected encounters. That’s what’s so magical about it, you never know neither who you’re going to meet nor where you’re going to land. You can visit villages that you would have never visited otherwise.
Which flight was the most unforgettable for you?
There are so many flights that I will never forget! If I had to choose one, it would probably be a flight near La Charité-Sur-Loire, in the region of Nièvre. It was right in the middle of the holiday exodus and we were flying above local and national roads packed with thousands of cars. What’s memorable is this opposition between all the people leaving on holidays, stuck in their car, while we were floating in the air above them, guided by the wind. It was like we were in another life.
Why did you choose to set up a base in Burgundy?
From a technical standpoint, Burgundy is an appropriate land for hot-air balloon flights. The wind speed is perfect and the landscape is amazing. From above, you can see almost the whole Côte d’Or and most of the Climats that compose the scene. There is no better way than this to really understand what “terroir” means. It’s like having a real wine map under your eyes. You can also see the mountain areas, helping to understand why there are so many “Côtes” in the region.
Why did you decide to collaborate with Château de Pommard?
I met Michael three years ago, and we immediately understood each other. We share the same values and the same vision. The products that we offer are each, in their own way, extraordinary and unique. And we want to share the same messages to our clients and visitors. The Burgundy-From-Above experience was so obvious, to help people understand the diversity and the charm of Burgundy’s terroirs. This is such a fascinating region! When I suggested this idea to Michael, he said yes very quickly and this is how we ended up with these two wonderful balloons branded with Château de Pommard.
Were you a wine lover before arriving in France?
Not really. I only discovered wine when arriving in France. Burgundy’s Pinot Noir became quite soon my favorite. I traveled a lot and had the chance to taste really different wines, but I still go back to a good Pinot Noir from the Côte d’Or.
What are your plans for the future?
I would like to develop new bases in France, and why not abroad at some point.