Thursday, August 18, 2011

Napa Valley Wine Train

The wine train is a bit of a tourist trap, but can still be quite fun.

I would suggest buying tickets in advance because they do sell out.  There are afternoon and evening trains, we took an afternoon train.  You can purchase packages to get bused to a winery and have a 90 min tour and wine pairing for $120-$160.  (This surprised most people I talked to about the train.  Most people think you stop at wineries on the train ride, but you don't.  The train goes from Napa to St. Helena and back without any disembarking unless you purchase the packages.)  

First off let me write a couple of warnings:

DO NOT take the wine train on a hot day (the AC units do not keep up).  It was 95 degrees when we went.

DO NOT take the wine train if you get motion sickness.  The train rocks almost as much as a boat.  

Also, when it comes to meal time one of you will be facing backwards.  I don't get sea sick, but after a few glasses of wine sitting in an 85 degree train car with no fresh air (windows don't open) and facing the rear of the train while eating I was so ready for the train to be over.  The Silverado car was the hottest of the train, it reminded me of riding the rails in India (minus the curry scents, overcrowding, and live chickens).

Enough of the warnings, enjoy the ride.

After we checked in there was a woman with a bad PA system who speaks on Napa Valley's history, wine history, and wine as well as stuff about trains.  During this they provide three small glasses of wine (sparkling, white, and red).  Then they call groups to board the train which takes about 20 min or so.  During the boarding process, they snap a photo which can be purchased after the ride for about $25.  

So once we were on the train we sat in our assigned seating (this way they ensure everyone sees both sides of the valley) and we were given a glass of wine and a small plate of appetizers.  It was a strange arrangement with jumbo shrimp, cheese, pickles, olives, toast, and picked onions.  You can purchase cheese plates and wine by the glass or bottle or wine tastings at the wine bar in the next car.  We opted to purchase tastings which seemed like the better choice.  That way it was more economical and we got to try more kinds of wine.

Once you get out of the town of Napa the train ride next to the vineyards is quite beautiful.  So we grabbed a couple tastes and ventured to the front of the car where you can go outside and get some fresh air. It was gorgeous.  There is only space for a couple people so we didn't linger too long, well maybe we did.  It was the best part of the train.  There needs to be a whole open air car.  When we hit the end of the line in St. Helena, we went to the dining car for our meal.  I had a seared ahi tuna with wild mushrooms which was delicious.  (I love mushrooms other than white button mushrooms, but hate mushroom/forest floor in funky Pinot Noirs.)  My friend had a chicken dish which was a little plain, but she liked it which was good because I wasn't going to share more than a taste.  The dessert was absolutely divine: fresh berries, chocolate, and creme fresh.  

I think, although Kate is a fun partner in crime, this may have been a better experience with someone who I had feelings for, but even with that I don't think I would have been thrilled.  It does seem like more of a romantic activity than a hanging out with a friend activity.  I'd rather just drive up the valley to the wineries I want to go to or what ever peaks my interest as I drive by and stop in for a tasting than be stuck on that train.  Plus I think the most expensive wine I tasted was about $25 (estimated retail value) not exactly Napa's finest. There were definitely people who left smiling, but most people were red faced and sweaty.

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