The Napa Wine Train…
A Napa commodity that chugs by the highway, stops me at railroad crossings at times, and is a huge tourist attraction. But what is the Wine Train all about? And how do I feel about it from a local’s perspective? I spent a Sunday aboard the Napa Wine Train, and took some photos and notes to share with you. Here’s what I think:
The Collective Tour
We took ‘the Collective Tour‘ which is a six hour, round trip starting at the Oxbow Market (essentially), stopping at St. Supery, Beringer, Raymond Vineyards, and then back. The first thing that surprised me was the size of the train we were on; I usually see the long, multi-car wine train chugging along the valley, but this train was only one car. The interior was in pristine condition, with comfortable and antique looking seats and tables. I felt transported back in time, with the only thing jolting me back to reality being the psychedelic, overly produced video playing on the tv screen at the front of the train. The video playing showed a weird, distorted version of the Napa landscape passing us by, and completely didn’t fit the charm and maturity of the train.
But this bizarre video didn’t ruin the mood! As the first course came out, we quickly stopped paying attention to the tv screen and dug in.
Dress: shop here here here // JANESSA LEONE hat: shop here // PRADA purse: shop here // Floral sandals ($23!): shop here // CELINE sunglasses: shop here
(^a complimentary glass of bubbles was presented to you as you board the train; who can’t be happy as they start the day with some champagne?!)
The Collective Tour started at 10 am and included a four course dining experience. I say ‘dining experience’ because it was coursed out between each winery tour, and presented in a way that was more interesting and inviting than just eating a meal. I must admit my expectations for food on a train were pretty low…but it was GOOOOOOD. Like really good.
First Course: Ciabatta and smoked salmon, berry parfait and oatmeal brûlée.
This first course was SO delicious and I was very thankful to have a little breakfast before we started wine tasting at 11 am. Joe is a pro at tasting wine first thing in the morning from his work…me not so much.
Our first winery stop was St. Supery. Nether Joe or I have visited St. Supery, so it was a treat to see a new winery. Now one interesting part of our Wine Train experience that caught me a little off guard was in order to get to each winery, we had to take a shuttle from the train to the winery; half of the guests aboard the train took the shuttle to St. Supery, and the other half had the luxury of getting dropped off directly at the winery they were visiting (their first stop was Robert Mondavi Winery, then Charles Krug and V. Sattui). If I were to do it over again, I would choose the tour (the Legacy Tour) that didn’t have the extra shuttle transportation time.
So how was St. Supery? The property is gorgeous, the wines are nice, and they have a beautiful art gallery in one of their tasting room. The main hospitality building is absolutely massive and looks as if it was just remodeled. The tour itself wasn’t very comprehensive as you didn’t get to see anything behind the scenes, but I would recommend it for those looking for a nice tasting in a beautiful setting.
Second Course: tomato gazpacho and Sonoma spring greens
This second course was just as good as the first, offering a light and seasonal snack after the first winery tour. I was very impressed that all the food was prepared in their teeny, tiny kitchen at the head of the train, always coming out timely and perfectly plated.
Our second winery stop was at Beringer, a historic spot that produces a very wide variety of wines. At Beringer, the tour was much more detail oriented with a boatload of insight into the history of the Beringer brothers. You get to walk through their caves as you sip on a few of their wines, but that’s about all you get to see. The tour was definitely fun, but you leave not really knowing what Beringer wine is all about. The property is very pretty and offers some great tastings that I would recommend for a larger group.
Third Course: miso glazed filet of salmon
This was probably my favorite course, with a nice piece of salmon swimming in a mouth-watering broth. I chose the salmon for this course, but they also offered a citrus braised pork belly which looked pretty great as well. Now one thing to note is that they don’t actually serve any wine on the wine train (funny right?), but they do offer cocktails to purchase and I believe you can bring your own bottle of wine onto the train. I didn’t see this as a negative since you stop at 3 wineries on the trip and drink more than enough wine, but it’s something to note!
Our third and final stop for the day was at Raymond Vineyards, a winery known for it’s eclectic decor and flamboyant flare. This was my favorite tour in that our host brought us by the vineyards, their biodynamic garden, to the cellar, to the barrel room, and then to their hospitality room. You feel like you get to see each step of the wine making process and get a feel for Raymond wines.
This was also my favorite stop as the entire winery is adorned with French Bulldog paintings! The winemaker, JCB, has Frenchies so his artwork not only decorates the walls, but are also on one of his labels of wine and a bunch of Frenchie gifts are sold in the gift shop (I got a French Bulldog bobble head that looks just like Frank!).
As mentioned before, this winery is very eccentric. There are neon chandeliers hanging around the tanks, mannequins dressed in leather and furry boas strung above tasting tables, and A LOT of cheetah print. This isn’t your typical winery!
Fourth Course: white wine poached pear
The final course was dessert! This boozy pear dish was light and tasty. After tasting some of Raymond’s big, bold cabernets, this sweet treat hit the spot. After boarding the train from our last stop, we headed straight back to our starting point to end the tour. The view of the valley from the train is gorgeous, with vineyards speeding by and a chance to see the different towns up and down the valley.
So…the big question: would I recommend the Wine Train?? Simply, yes. I think they did a phenomenal job with the food and the ease of this experience is fantastic. You simply show up, and everything else is taken care of. One of the big hassles of wine tasting in Napa is coordinating the different tours and your transportation. Since wineries are so spread out in the valley, it can get very expensive to not only pay for your different tours, but pay for transportation to and from each winery.
Included in the cost of your ticket are 3 full winery tours, a 4 course meal, transportation between each winery, AND the entertainment of being on a train chugging along the valley. Like I mentioned before, I would recommend the Legacy Tour over the Collective Tour so you don’t have to sit on a shuttle between visits!
If you have specific questions regarding this experience, feel free to comment or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Happy to give my two cents!