It’s not only about the wine, but oenophiles, people with a religious-like devotion to wine, as well as a variety of other passengers including those seeking an authentic experience, will fall in love with the Napa Valley Wine Train.
Departing from America’s epicenter of wine production in Napa, the train is for those who can expertly identify and uncork the nation’s finest wine, as well as the less experienced whose only wine knowledge is what they learned last week when they purchased a bottle of wine off of the shelf of their neighborhood grocery store.
Whichever wine drinker you are, the Wine Train serves up great wine, a gourmet meal, a nostalgic trip back in time and scenic views of row after row of vineyards from expertly restored rail cars.
The 25 mile round trip passes at 15-18 miles per hour through Napa, Yountville, Oakville, Rutherford and St. Helena, where it then turns around and heads back to Napa. The entire trip takes about three hours. Maps provided on the train detail what wineries and vineyards are approaching including popular brands such as Domaine Chandon, Robert Mondavi and Beringer.
The train tracks that the Napa Valley Wine Train runs on were originally built in the 1860s to bring resort guests to nearby Calistoga and its hot springs. Most of its rail cars, which were built in 1915 by Pullman, were acquired from various sources in the 1980s. The cars have been expertly restored to their original splendor including Honduran mahogany paneling, brass accents, etched glass partitions and plush armchairs.
Besides the views of the Napa Valley, the white linen gourmet meal, with impeccably trained servers who double as tour guides, is the highlight of the trip. After coming on board, passengers are shown to their assigned seats in rails cars with names including CHARDONNAY, MERLOT and other wines.
A sample meal includes succulent selections such as: Baby Lettuce Salad with candied walnuts and smoked goat cheese as a first course. Choosing from one of five entrees an entree such as the Roasted Beef Tenderloin, set upon a melange of potatoes with steamed garlic and grilled zucchini – in a cabernet reduction topped with red onion marmalade. Finally, moving to another rail car for dessert – a vanilla creme brulee. The most hard core foodie will not be disappointed.
A glass of wine is also provided to each passenger and a variety of wine is available for purchase. Soft drinks, espresso, cappuccino, assorted juices and Pellegrino are all available as well.
The meals are prepared on the train as it is underway, and you can even walk by and watch behind a glass partition as the chef prepares the meals in the “Kitchen Car.”
In fact, because of the layout of the train, passengers can walk the entire length of the train including the three lounge cars, a dessert car, a kitchen car, two standard dining cars, a domed dining car and a power car. Observation areas at the front and end of the train allow passengers to get outside and see the sights without looking through a window.
It all starts when passengers begin checking in at 10:30 am in the spacious and comfortable rail themed waiting offices of the Napa Valley Wine Train in downtown Napa. During the check in, the history of the Napa Valley Wine Train is shared and a comfortable and organized boarding process starts with the goal of an ontime departure of 11:30 am – a flawless process that puts airline flight boarding to shame.
The Napa Valley Wine Train, however, is like an airline when it comes to one area – classes of service. For those who want a little more than the normal 5-star service that the Napa Valley Wine Train serves up, they can upgrade to the Vista Dome rail car which provides access to a two-story glass domed car that provides for maximum viewing and additional privacy.
Other special trains and events are available at specific times of the year. For more information, visit: www.winetrain.com.
Disclosure: The writer traveled on the Napa Valley Wine Train as its guest.