All aboard! Come experience the Napa Valley Wine Train, which is one of the few active historic passenger railroads in the United States. This amazing excursion of leisure, wine and exceptional cuisine, takes you through Napa Valley Wine Country in Northern California, where you are a guest on a beautifully restored vintage train.
The Napa Valley Wine Train continues to be the most iconic attraction in Napa for locals and visitors alike, featuring a roundtrip journey from its downtown Napa station to St. Helena. This comes with a multi-course meal prepared on board by an expert culinary team, luxury dining and lounge setting and sweeping views of famous vineyards along the way.
The wine train offers full and half day tours so that guests can experience and be introduced to the region’s world-class wineries. There is the Legacy Tour, which with a tasting of sparkling wine, followed by a three-hour rail tour of the famed Napa Valley, a four-course gourmet meal, a stop at the Napa Valley sign for a photo opportunity and exclusive tastings and tours at the Charles Krug and V. Sattui. There is also the gourmet express (lunch or dinner is available), which includes a three-hour train journey and departs at 11:30 a.m. for lunch, or a two-hour train journey, departing at 6:20 p.m. for dinner. Both include a multiple course gourmet meal. The Gourmet Express package also offers dining and lounge service, with some courses of the meal served in each car.
My guest and I happened to be in California this past December, which is Napa Valley’s off season. Even during the winter, Napa is still lovely to visit and experience. We were very excited to board and enjoy the Gourmet Lunch Express experience, which is a decadent journey through northern Napa Valley and back into the past: the glorious days of rail travel. The ride was a nice, leisurely pace with delicious food, wine and sophisticated comfort.
When we arrived at the Napa Valley Wine Station, we sat in the waiting room, which was warm, welcoming with vintage model trains at the check-in desk, a store with souvenirs and wine bottles for sale, complimentary hot apple cider and Christmas carolers serenading us as we waited to board the train. We boarded at 10:30am and walked through a boarding ramp that led to the train. The ramp is a fence called the Love Lock Bridge, which is a small pedestrian foot bridge connecting the station to the wine train boarding platform. The bridge is dedicated to lovers all over the world and features padlocks decorated with their names, initials, or a special date and lock it to the bridge fence. Then, the key can be either tossed into the abyss below the bridge or saved as a keepsake.
Once on the train, we were impressed with how beautifully restored the vintage train was, with lovely walls, intricate designs and patterns. The train’s interior was festive and decorated for the holidays with wreaths and pine. It felt like we were stepping back in time or into a storybook. We began the lunch express in the dining car and were greeted by delightful, charming and welcoming staff. We experienced excellent service throughout the entire train ride. The train and overall service paid very fine attention to detail and luxury.
We started the meal with warm, crusty bread and delicious, creamy butter and a complimentary glass of a lovely, dry champagne. Each table came with a printed map of the train journey. First course served was a choice of roasted tomato bisque soup or roasted beet salad with frisee, Sky Hills Farm goat cheese, toasted pistachios and honey-tangelo vinaigrette. Both appetizers were light and full of textures and amazing flavors. The entrees consisted of ricotta cheese gnocchi (leeks, mushrooms, porcini cream, parmesan cheese, solera vinegar) and porcini-dusted beef tenderloin (cauliflower puree, smoke bacon, forest mushrooms, charred broccolini, ruby port glaze). I had the gnocchi and it was delicious, though the cream was a bit heavy for my taste. My guest had the beef tenderloin and savored every bite. We had both hoped for wine tastings during the meal, but were disappointed to discover that they were an additional fee.
While we dined, we highly enjoyed the amazing views of Napa Valley from our window, where we caught glimpses of parts of Napa Valley. We had breathtaking views of vibrant rainbows from the rain, beautiful buildings and architecture from wine vineyards, including impressive rows and rows of grape vines into the distance.
Next, we were led to the Merlot Lounge Car, where we all enjoyed a change in scenery, including complimentary coffee, tea and then our choice of dessert (crème brulée with fresh berries or a triple layered chocolate mousse). We sipped on delicious roasted coffee and then sampled both desserts, which were Heaven on a plate.
Afterwards, we were invited to stretch our legs and explore the other train cars. We were able to see behind the scenes in the kitchen, including the open air car, which was perfect for some fresh air and additional amazing scenery.
The train finally returned to the station at 2:30pm. It felt like the entire trip had gone too fast, and we were reluctant to exit the train and conclude the amazing Napa Valley Wine Train experience. Though summertime in Napa is beautiful, I highly recommend visiting in the winter, when it is milder weather, less crowded and much more relaxed. The Wine Train was overall awe-inspiring, and we could not have asked for a better way to experience everything that Napa Valley has to offer.
Photos: Jennifer Lunz unless otherwise noted.
For more information or to book a Napa Valley Wine Train experience, please visit the website or call 800-427-4124.