Wining on the Rails
After a couple of days of touring Napa Valley with my wife and a couple of friends, there is only one thing I missed—the Napa Valley Wine Country! While navigating the rental car I saw the road… and the street signs… and the traffic. However, I never enjoyed the view because I had to pay attention while driving. To remedy this, I booked us a trip on the famous Napa Valley Wine Train.
The Wine Train consists of beautifully restored golden Pullman Cars dating from 1915-1917, each decked out in plush furnishings with picture windows facing out into the valley. The train runs from downtown Napa to St. Helena through the small towns of Yountville, Oakville and Rutherford.
The four of us booked the lunch excursion on a gorgeous sunny day that happened to be our anniversaries—my wife Karen and I celebrating twenty seven years—our friends Gene and Betsy marking 33 years!
There are two seatings for each lunch or dinner trip. During the first seating, guests dine on the trip north and relax in the lounge car on the return ride. We booked the second seating with our meal served during the journey back into Napa. We boarded the lounge car and were immediately transported back to a time when getting there was half the fun. A hostess greeted us and led us through the stately car paneled in Honduran Mahogany with brass accents. Plush, low back chairs faced outward. The hostess showed us to a white linen table for four. It’s never too early to start drinking in Napa and I ordered a bottle of Champagne to celebrate.
The whistle blew and the train departed with a soft thunk and a clickety-clack. Our champagne arrived and we toasted the occasion as we left the streetscape behind. Row upon row of grapevines extended miles and miles out to the verdant mountains on either side of the valley. Karen, Gene and Betsy chatted away while I took some time to finally enjoy the view of Napa Valley. The sheer magnitude of vineyard after vineyard is staggering. About a half hour into the trip, complimentary cheeses plates were served. The four of us noshed and drank and stared out the window.
After arriving in St. Helena, the engine de-coupled from the front of the train and chugged by on an adjacent track to attach at the back. Several hostesses organized a round of musical chairs. Those of us in the lounge cars swapped places with the riders from the dining cars. The lunch menu included a choice of soup or salad to start. The entrees ranged from roast beef tenderloin, grilled pork, mustard encrusted chicken breast, salmon with kale, or a vegetarian squash polenta. Gene and Betsy went for the two different meats while I chose the salmon and Karen the squash. A glass of house, or should I say “train”, wine came with the meal. We all loved the salads sprinkled with smoked goat cheese. My salmon hash brown was highly palatable, but not as tasty as a piece of grilled salmon. The kale, however, was exceptional—sautéed in a lemon-thyme reduction. Gene raved about his beef and our wives rated their meals as good, not great. A delicious dessert followed for three of us. Karen passed on the highlight of the meal! Gene and Betsy went for the crème brûlée while I tried a gluten free Italian lime custard (Panna cotta) topped with blueberries—SPECTACULAR!!!
A cup of coffee to finish lunch, Karen and I then embarked on a walk to stretch our legs and explore the train. Wide windows, at the junctions between the cars, afforded an open air view. We leaned out the window and felt the crisp California breeze. It was best part of the trip. Occasionally a person working in the vineyards or near the tracks would spot us and wave. We’d wave back and they’d smile a giant smile. Everyone loves a train!
Gourmet Lunch or Dinner Package $124 pp
Winery Tours in combination with the train ride may also be arranged.