Napa Valley Wine Train (Photographer © John Elk III / LPI/Getty Images)

The railroad itself dates back to 1864 and is part of the charm of the experience today, which involves guests relaxing to the clack-clack of the wine train conveying them along the Napa Valley wine train’s routes—most of which run 36 miles, round-trip, to St. Helena and back.

Andy Meek
Updated January 15, 2019

There’s never a bad time of the year to sample Napa Valley’s abundance of delicious wines or to soak up its verdant, sun-kissed beauty while exploring local wineries like Robert Mondavi and Domaine Chandon. The winter months, however, are particularly rewarding for visitors who will be met with the same natural beauty that takes your breath away—albeit just with fewer crowds, the sweater weather likewise forcing you to cozily bundle up while huddling around, say, a fire pit to sample a flute of sparkling Champagne. For an even more picturesque experience, one local offering especially worth consideration is the Napa Valley Wine Train—tour packages for which can be booked year-round but which has been described as offering one of the most beautiful winter train rides in the country.

The Napa Valley Wine Train headquarters lies 50 miles north of San Francisco, at McKinstry Street Station, and its early 20th century Pullman coaches whisk passengers along on a number of different routes, including as part of three-hour tours that start at $150 as well as six-hour rides starting at $250 that offer combinations of meals, wine tastings, and winery tours. Among the variety of tour options, Napa wine train packages also include special holiday, New Year’s Eve, Valentine’s Day and even murder mystery offerings.

This year will mark the 30th anniversary of the wine train, which started its gourmet dining service back in September 1989. The railroad itself dates back to 1864 and is part of the charm of the experience today, which involves guests relaxing to the clack-clack of the wine train conveying them along the Napa Valley wine train’s routes—most of which run 36 miles, round-trip, to St. Helena and back. Depending on which package you’ve chosen, you can also stop at celebrated wineries along the way and enjoy a sumptuous four-course meal.

The Napa wine train accommodations includes Honduran mahogany paneling, brass accents, etched glass partitions, and plush armchairs, an old-fashioned throwback to the heyday of luxury train travel in the early 1900s.

“Since acquiring the train, we’ve strived to take the guest experience to the next level, consistent with the maturation of Napa Valley,” said Napa Valley Wine Train co-owner Scott Goldie. “This not only includes refurbishment of the train, but a fresh and local upgraded food experience and many exciting new tours.

“Today, our guests can enjoy private and intimate tastings and meals at wineries, wine tasting with owners of wineries, tequila trains, jazz trains, beer trains, concerts and tours of an emerging arts district. While paying homage to the iconic history of the wine train, our goal is to make the train culturally relevant and current by the merging of food, wine, spirits, history, music and art.”

So what can you expect aboard a Napa wine tasting train? Take the Quattro Vino Estate Tour, which includes a stop at the California counterpart of the French champagne house Moet & Chandon. You’ll be part of an intimate group of just 30 travelers and start your journey in the morning with a light gourmet breakfast of ciabatta and smoked salmon, berry parfait and steel cut oatmeal brulee. Before the train returns shortly before 5 p.m., you’ll have visited Domaine Chandon, the 150-year-old historic vineyard Hall St. Helena as well as the Inglenook chateau and vineyard restored by famed director Francis Ford Coppola.

The trip’s second course meal includes asparagus bisque with white truffle oil and aged parmesan and organic Sonoma spring greens. Additional courses include your choice of citrus braised pork belly or miso glazed fillet of salmon, with the fourth course capping everything off via the pastry chef’s daily creation.

The wine train includes 16 railcars, and most train tours and packages take between three and six hours. There’s no enforced dress code though it’s suggested to bring a jacket on cool nights, with some guests also prefer cocktail party attire for the dinner packages.

The lunch and dinner train rides without a winery tour stop last around three hours. A half-day winery tour package runs three to four hours, and you should plan for as much as six hours for the full-day winery tours.

A list of inns and hotels near the Napa Valley wine train can be found here and includes such properties as The River Terrace Inn, The Meritage Resort and Spa and The Cottages of Napa Valley. 

The journeys begin in the Napa Valley Wine Train Station in Downtown Napa. A half-hour before boarding, wine specialists offer an introductory lecture on Napa Valley and the wine train. Passengers wait for their seating selection to be called, and then it’s all aboard the antique train.

Napa Valley Wine Train, 1275 Mckinstry Street, Napa, CA, (707) 253-2111

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