Thanks to a generous gift certificate we received from our wedding, we took a ride on the Napa Valley Wine Train. We were married up in Wine Country, in Sonoma, Napa's quieter neighbor to the west, so it seemed appropriate. I had always seen signs for the wine train while driving around the area but really had no idea what was involved.
Turns out, there are a bunch of different wine train tours you can take, depending on the time of day you go and if there are special events going on. We signed up for a gourmet lunch train ride.
The train departs from the station in downtown Napa, where there is a convenient parking lot and waiting area where you can snag some pre-train snacks and drinks. It felt like waiting in a real train station, except that everyone was a tourist and we were on the younger side of the group.
We picked up our tickets (which must be booked far in advance!) and waited for our boarding time and carriage.
The first step in the experience is to be escorted to the dining car. There, we were presented with the menu. We had called in advance to let them know we don't eat meat, but it wouldn't have mattered since the menu was very accommodating with multiple vegetarian and pescatarian options!
A waiter took our wine order and then we examined the menu, selecting our first, second, and third courses.
The vibe of the train was quite distinguished with early 20th century decor. It felt reminiscent of the design of the European train cars in The Orient Express. There were paintings hanging in every car, mahogany paneling, brass accents, and drapes on the windows. White table clothes and well dressed servers added to the elegance and charm.
The first 10 miles or so on the train aren't too beautiful as you exit the urban parts of Napa and slide past the highway. Soon though, the vineyards come into view as well as many beautiful murals which the Rail Arts District has taken underway as a project to beautify the city.
We were served our first course of salad, and continued to enjoy the scenery. The menu had a list of all the vineyards we would be passing on each side of the train so we could keep track of the journey. We were then served our entrees and decided to buy another glass of wine each to go with the meal. Unfortunately, unlimited wine was not included.
Once the main course was completed, we were escorted to the lounge car, to enjoy some tea, coffee, and dessert. At this point, the train had reached its destination in St. Helena and was turning around. We were able to watch the engine move from the back to the front, which was pretty cool.
After enjoying our desserts (delicious, by the way!), we decided to get up and explore the train. Not a lot of people seemed to take advantage of this but because the train was moving pretty slowly and there weren't any restricted cars, you could literally walk from one end of the train to the other. Some of the cars were completely empty, and we were able to hang out off the sides of the train and take in the beauty around us. It was a pretty hot day in Napa (as it often is in the summer), so it was nice to be able to duck back in to the train for some A/C.
All and all, this experience is one of the more unique ones you can have in wine country, with a bit more class and elegance than you get with just driving around. You get to enjoy a more holistic view of wine country, coupled with a delicious meal!