It’s a pleasant, sunny day and you’re sitting in a magnificently restored 1915-era Pullman dining car. A waiter stops to refill your glass with a delightful Napa Valley chardonnay.
Outside the window is a picture postcard scene: fields of leafy, green grapevines surrounding a large, stone winery. You take a sip of your wine and savor the flavor and the moment.
Such is life on the Napa Valley Wine Train, a mobile celebration of the area’s scenic beauty — and most famous product.
The train is a short line railroad devoted to the idea that riding on a train can be more than transportation. In fact, you might say that the Napa Valley Wine Train has about as much in common with a typical commuter train as a multi-tiered wedding cake does with a Twinkie.
Since being established in 1987, the Napa Valley Wine Train has earned a reputation for offering gourmet dining, award-winning wines and first class service.
Even the train’s cars have pedigrees. Eight are 1915-17 Pullman cars originally used by the Northern Pacific Railroad Company. In the late 1980s, local craftsmen restored them to echo the elegance and sophistication of such railway forerunners as the famed Orient Express.
Despite the Wine Train’s relatively recent vintage, the train’s route has a long and rich history. It’s predecessor, the Napa Valley Railroad, began operating in 1865. During the next century, the railroad was sold and had its name changed several times before shutting down in the early 1980s.
In 1987, the Napa Valley Wine Train, Inc. headed by Vincent DeDomenico, former owner of Golden Grain Macaroni Company (makers of “Rice-A-Roni”), acquired the track and right-of-way, began purchasing historic equipment and restarted freight service on the line (it remains a working railroad in addition to serving as a tourist attraction).
The Wine Train’s gourmet meal rides include several lunch and dinner excursions, which offers main course selections ranging from roasted beef tenderloin to sweet pea raviolis.
All of the Wine Train’s runs are 36 miles round trip and last about three hours.
In addition to the regular dinner and lunch trips, the railroad offers special Winery Tours including: the Castle Winery Tour, which includes a tasting at the Castello di Amorosa, an authentic Tuscan-style castle winery; the Evening Winery Tour with a stop and tasting at the famed Grgich Hills Winery; and the Domaine Chandon Winery Tour, with a tour of the grounds of the famed champagne cellars at Domaine Chandon in Yountville.
A complete listing of train schedules, including special Murder Mystery Expresses and the Winery Tours can be found on the Wine Train’s web site, accessed at http://www.winetrain.com.
For a particularly unique experience, the railroad also offers its “Go Loco” excursions, which provides lunch or dinner and allow participants to ride in the cab of the locomotive with the train’s engineer.
The Napa Valley Wine Train operates seven days a week. On weekdays, the Lunch Train departs at 10:50 a.m. and returns around 2 p.m. The weekday Dinner Train departs at 5:50 p.m. and returns at 9 p.m.
Prices for the various trips range from $109 (for lunch) to $350 for the Go Loco Round Trip.
For more information or reservations call 800-427-4124. The Wine Train Depot is located at 1275 McKinstry Street in Napa.
Rich Moreno covers the places and people that Nevadans love to visit.