By Susie Reese
Chugging through one of the most famous wine regions of the world, the Napa Valley Wine Train is part restaurant, part museum, and all fun. Housed in 1915 Pullman railcars that have been restored to pristine quality, the train is a nostalgic journey in early 20th century style with a welcome two-ounce pour, a three-course meal, and a three-hour ride across the vineyards of Napa Valley.
“It was one of the most exclusive experiences of my life,” boasts Gosha Reese, destination coordinator, U.S. West for Flight Centre. “A beautiful old fashionable train, staff dressed in beautiful uniforms—you had a feeling of being transported to the 20’s.”
“The Wine Train is a restaurant housed on an antique train,” explains Kira McManus Devitt, director of marketing and public relations for the Wine Train, and the granddaughter of Vincent DeDomencio, Wine Train founder and Rice-a-Roni inventor. “We do have options where guests can remain on the train for the three-hour trip, or where guests spend part of their time on the train and then part of their time touring one of our partner wineries.”
On board is a full bar, stocked with wines from the local vineyards, and the staff helps pair the right wine for the meals that are served. And the exquisite meals of roasted beef tenderloin, almond encrusted salmon piccata, and stuffed gypsy peppers (see recipe), aren’t the only entertainment.
“With the day tour, you have beautiful views because you’re riding through Napa Valley,” says Reese. “You have wineries on both sides.”
Ken Dolan, account director of the W Los Angeles – West Beverly Hills, took a night ride on the Napa Valley Wine Train. “The whole thing was fantastic from start to end, and the views were nice as it was getting dusty. Later, even though we didn’t have much of a view, the wineries were lit up in the front, so you don’t just necessarily have that sprawling view, but you can definitely see the entrances.”
The most popular ride is the Vista Dome, a two-story train car built in 1952 that offers the Wine Train’s first-class, VIP experience.
Notes Devitt, “It tends to sell-out two to three weeks in advance, so guests really seem to like the VIP experience. It’s also a private car, so other guests can’t travel through that car unless they purchased seats in it.”
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Wine Train Experiences
The Napa Valley Wine Train offers themed, unique experiences you won’t find at most restaurants or even most theaters.
Perfect for groups, birthdays, and bachelorette parties, The Murder Mystery Train is like Clue for the rails, where guests interact with actors to find out who committed the dastardly crime. The experience is interactive, and guests are urged to dress the part and join the hunt for the murderer.
“The Murder Mystery Train is really, really fun,” says Devitt. “You are able to pick your own name if you want to participate in that way, or you can just sit back and enjoy it. It’s like an interactive dinner theatre, and throughout the train ride, the actors will come into your car and play out a scene.”
At the end, guests try to figure out who committed the murder, but the murderer changes from train ride to train ride. So guests who enjoyed the experience can return for a new one.
“A fair amount of people dress up,” explains Devitt. “You don’t get up and act with them, but you do interact with the actors. It might take a second because it puts you outside of your comfort zone, but a lot of times people end up participating.”
Another experience on the wine train is the Santa Train, which runs in November and December. Families first arrive at the station to have their picture taken with Santa, and then Santa and other holiday characters board the train for the hour-and-a-half trip.
Notes Devitt, “That’s half the duration of a regular trip. It’s downsized for children with short attention spans, but they have such a fun time.”
Reflected in the discounted price, the experience does not include food, but certain items, like chicken fingers and even salmon and caviar, are available for purchase.
“We wanted to be able to give families the option of ordering or not ordering food because some kids have to eat, and some kids won’t eat.”
The train also offers cookies and hot chocolate, as well as a full bar onboard (this is the wine train after all.)
Holidays can also be spent on the wine train with special experiences for Easter, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Fourth of July, Thanksgiving, and New Year’s. And the Napa Valley Wine Train offers a special experience called The Big Gay Train. In conjunction with Out in the Vineyard, this special train is designed to be a fun, gay-friendly event featuring wines from LBGT makers.
“Now it’s expanded to Washington and Oregon winemakers, too, but we just wanted to showcase these lesser known winemakers because there wasn’t an event like it in the valley at the time. It’s been fun and it’s been really successful for the last five years.”
Groups about the train
The Napa Valley Wine Train offers wonderful group experiences, tailored to the clients’ desires. According to Devitt, groups can buy up a train car or even the whole train, which hosts up to 360 passengers.
“We have our commissary, where our main prep kitchen is,” explains Devitt, “and guests have started upstairs on our commissary overlooking our rail yard before having a sparkling wine reception.” Then the party boards the train for a night on the rails.
The wine train also celebrates weddings, but their experiences are more conducive for elopements, rehearsal dinners, and wedding receptions, Devitt notes.
Stuffed Gypsy Pepper
Try making this scrumptious and exclusive recipe from the Napa Valley Wine Train’s Executive Chef Kelly Macdonald at home!
8 ounces Butternut Squash
1 can or 6 total Fire Roasted Piquillo Pepper – Available at finer grocery stores
2 ounces White Cheddar Cheese
2 ounces Smoked Goat Cheese
1 teaspoon Fresh Chervil
1 teaspoon Dry Sage
1/4 teaspoon Dry Lavender powder
Salt and Pepper to taste
Mustard Dijon Vinaigrette
1/4 cup Rice Wine Vinegar
2 Tablespoons Dijon Mustard
2 Tablespoons Honey
1 Tablespoon Marsala Wine
1 Tablespoon Dry Tarragon
1/3 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Salt and Pepper to taste
Quail Egg Crouton
6 Slices Sourdough Bread
6 Quail Eggs
6 Tablespoons Sweet Butter
6 Tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil
18 ounces Spring lettuce mix
Heat oven to 350 degrees. Line baking dish with parchment paper. Cut the squash horizontally, discard the seeds. Then place in baking dish cut side down. Bake until squash is tender, approximately 30-45 minutes. Prepare piquillo peppers by rinsing and patting dry, discarding any seeds. Set aside. Remove squash from oven and allow to cool. Once cooled, scrape squash out of shell and place eight ounces in bowl. Add the rest of the ingredients and mix until thoroughly combined. Place squash mixture into pastry bag and pipe into the prepared peppers. Place peppers on parchment lined sheet pan and bake for 10 minutes. While peppers are in oven, begin the quail egg crouton.
Mustard Dijon Vinaigrette
In a bowl, whisk the first six ingredients. Slowly drizzle the olive oil, whisking well until thoroughly combined Add more salt and pepper if desired. Set aside.
Quail Egg Crouton
Remove crust from bread, then using a two-inch diameter cookie cutter cut the bread from the center of the slice and discard. In a nonstick sauté pan over medium heat, place one tablespoon butter and one tablespoon olive oil, allow butter to melt. Place one slice of bread in pan and toast on both sides, then crack quail egg into center of bread and cook for approximately 12 minutes. Gently remove from pan and set aside. Continue the process until all the bread/eggs have been cooked.
Using six salad plates, place three ounces of Spring lettuce mix on each plate, arranging it off to one side. Drizzle each salad with the vinaigrette. Rest warm pepper in middle of plate aside the spring mix. Arrange the quail egg crouton so that it lies just to the side of the pepper.
If you wish, garnish the edge of the plate with chopped herbs.
About the Author
Susie Reese is a copywriter for FC USA Artworks. She loves to travel (you know it!) and has ventured extensively across North America. She enjoys short walks on the beach and comic cons. She writes On the Go: A Magazine for Travelers and on her free-time, comics and short stories.