Napa Valley Wine Train: Delicious Time Travel
Napa Valley Wine Train, with its antique Pullmans and a luxurious 1952 Super Vista glass-roof car, does not transport travelers from point A to point B anymore. Rather, it makes them travel in time to “The Great Gatsby” era.
One of the few historic passenger railroads still active in the United States stretches from downtown Napa to St. Helena, California. In the course of a three-hour, 36-mile, round-trip Wine Train, passengers indulge in fine dining with impeccable service, exclusive wine tasting, and carefree observation of the lush green and gold vineyards of Napa Valley, which are especially breathtaking at sunset.
In the meticulously restored rail cars with Honduran mahogany paneling, brass accents, etched glass partitions, and plush armchairs that evoke the spirit of luxury travel at the turn of the century, tourists from all over the world can be seen next to local gourmands, honeymooners, and special occasion celebrators.
The Wine Train’s Winemaker’s Dinner became a special occasion for my husband and me to settle in an elevated booth of the Vista Dome car and experience the magic of the fantasy travel first hand. The winemaker/proprietor Kirk Venge of Venge Vineyards in Calistoga paired his highly acclaimed wines with an exquisite multi-course dinner prepared by executive chef Kelly Macdonald.
“Wine Train is a part of Napa history; it is not just for tourists,” said chef Kelly. “I wanted no excuses, but to express myself in excellence. When you have locals on the train you know you do it right.”
And so our Champagne Vista Dome Celebrity Winemaker Dinner began with a glass of ripe 2012 Venge “Juliana” Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc from Napa Valley paired with quail leg on top of brioche toast and grilled grape-pear salad dressed with red and yellow bell pepper purée.
The dish prompted our chef to suggest considerately, “What is cooked on the bone, can be eaten from the bone”—as if I wouldn’t have gnawed on that tiny bone anyway!
2011 Venge “Penny Lane” Vineyard Sangiovese from Oakville complemented the ruby-red seared Hawaiian ahi crusted in sunflower seeds and placed on top of fresh avocado. A side of watermelon salsa had a kind of hidden treasure underneath: just in-season heirloom tomato from Lodi, grown by Golden Bear Farms especially for chef Kelly’s kitchen. Pungent daikon radish sprouts added an intriguing kick to the entire composition.
2011 Venge Vineyards “Scout’s Honor” Red Blend from Calistoga (rich and full-bodied 66 percent Zin, 16 percent Petite Sirah, 14 percent Charbono, and 4 percent Syrah) could’ve been consumed on its own, but it made a great match for pork tournedos with a mélange of Oregon porcinis, grilled summer squash, and polenta.
For dessert, the lucky Vista Dome diners were treated to black cherry blondies with vanilla bean ice cream and lightly salted caramel sauce. By the time the lavish dinner was over, our train made its way to Saint Helena and back to Napa; our dreamscape experience was coming to an end.
Napa Valley Wine Train offers lunch, dinner, special wine events, daily winery tours, winemaker’s dinners, and other programs. The lunch train departs from downtown Napa at 11:30 a.m. and returns at around 2:30 p.m. The dinner train departs at 6:30 p.m. and returns at around 9:30 p.m. The train depot is located at 1275 McKinstry Street in Napa, California. For reservations, call (800) WINE-TRAIN.