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Star-Bulletin Features

Monday, April 17, 2000

Napa Wine Train

All aboard a relaxing trip
on Napa’s wine train

Across the Bridge

Across the Bridge
Leg room, smooth flight

By Tim Ryan


I'M tasting superb red wines and exotic cheeses while on a train winding its way through some of the most beautiful vineyards Napa has to offer. Or is this heaven?

It's a classic California spring: sunny, with highs in the 60s, azure skies, poppies in bloom and gnarled grape vines extending for miles.

From downtown Oakland to Napa takes a little more than an hour; about the time it takes me to drive to Kahuku from my home in Aina Haina.


Food-and wine loving travelers can see California's finest vineyards and sample the region's cuisine. Lunch and dinner trains daily, brunch Saturdays, Sundays and holidays.

Bullet Where: 1275 McKinstry St.
Bullet Cost: Dining packages $59.50-$89
Bullet Call: (707)-253-2111, 1-800-427-4124 or online


Bullet Where: 6462 Washington St.
Bullet Cost: $140-$295 daily
Bullet Call: 1-800-972-229 or online

It was sorta off season and a week day, so there were no crowds to contend with at wineries or restaurants. We didn't have any trouble getting a great room at the Yountville Inn with a beautiful corner fireplace, spacious lanai, marble bathroom and gorgeous view of Napa Valley's golden foothills. It's the kind of place where you have to force yourself to leave.

Then someone suggested we try the Napa Valley Wine Train, which serves a champagne brunch, gourmet lunch or full-course dinner, while cruising through the heart of Napa Valley's picturesque vineyards and wineries.

Considering our limited time in wine country it seemed a good way of seeing more in the most relaxed condition.

Napa Valley has six main towns: Calistoga, St Helena, Rutherford, Oakville, Yountville, Napa and American Canyon.

The 3-hour, 36-mile train excursion begins in Napa and travels through several wine valleys to St. Helena before returning.

Lunch for us would include a glass of champagne and a choice of four entrees.

While one group of passengers eats in the dining cars, another group is served hors d'oeuvres and wine in the Lounge car. (There's also the Champagne Vista Dome Car which was filled by the time we got our tickets.)

We were seated in the Lounge car and immediately served a glass of champagne. The 1915 car -- linked to the Wine Tasting car -- is decked out in polished mahogany, brass and etched glass, swivel lounge chairs, love seats, and weighed down by 50,000 pounds of concrete to ensure a smooth ride.

Our circa 1950 glass-topped car had high-backed chairs that allowed us to capitalize on the surrounding scenery.

We'd never been much for organized tours, but the train offered a great Wine Country primer. That's because the waiters and sommeliers are so knowledgeable about the area and its wines they could tell us the best things to do, see and drink. They'll even tell you which wineries charge for wine tasting.

Most of all, the trip forced us to relax. After a few glasses of vino that came pretty easily.

Eating in a restored 1917 Pullman Dining Car -- where tables are set with linens, china, silverware and crystalware -- isn't rushed.

On this day we had a choice of roasted Angus beef tenderloin marinated in cabernet, olive oil, fresh herbs and garlic; or fresh sturgeon fillet in Chardonnay, basil, shallots and olive oil. Ono!

When we arrived back at the train station I tried to figure out a way for us to stay another night but work constraints made it impossible.

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