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Commemorating the 30th anniversary of the Napa Valley Wine Train on Sept. 16, co-CEO Scott Goldie made it clear: the train’s future is just as much a thing to celebrate as its past.

Founded by Vincent DeDomenico, one of the inventors of Rice-A-Roni, the train took its inaugural passenger ride on Sept. 16, 1989. It was originally met with much resistance from the Upvalley communities, including St. Helena, whose mayor was so vehemently against the train’s operation that he lay down across its tracks in protest.

Opponents, many of whom peacefully protested the train’s first ride, worried the train would bring excessive tourism to Napa Valley, disrupting daily life.

Slowly, though, the valley acclimated to the train. In 2008, following the deaths of DeDomenico and his wife, DeDomenico’s son-in-law, Greg McManus, took over the train’s operations; Brooks Street (where Goldie is a partner) and Noble House Hotels and Resorts co-purchased the train in 2015.

More than 250 guests attended the 30th anniversary celebration at the McKinstry Street station and on stationary train cars. The night featured opportunities to tour the cars, live music, food, drinks and a raffle. Proceeds benefited the Children’s Museum of Napa Valley.

In his speech, Goldie described running “the third iteration” of the Wine Tain, and praised DeDomenico for his vision.

Brooks Street and Noble House have aimed to preserve the lunch and dinner trains – what Goldie calls “the core” of the original business – while expanding and diversifying the train’s capacity.

“The real growth started when we acquired the train. We’re all about offering more experiences at different price points,” Goldie said, adding that both the onboard food and wine menus now rotate. “We didn’t want to have the same food, the same train – the same experience for 25 years.”

Additional train cars were introduced in 2017 as part of the diversification of the experiences offered by the train. Goldie estimates that they’re running the train around 1,200 times per year; that number was previously closer to 350 times, he said. They’ve also added a Santa Train, Murder Mystery Train, Hop Train and Tequila Train.

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Today, the train partners with around 20 wineries; before 2015, it worked with only with a couple, according to Goldie, who said he feels the train’s been embraced by the Valley.

Brooks Street and Noble House have also begun to expand their focus on the hospitality industry. In 2017, the partners submitted an application for a 151-room train station hotel to be built at the site of its current station on McKinstry Street.

Revised plans were submitted in March of this year. If built, the project would be one of only a handful of train station hotels in the United States, according to Goldie. The partners have also proposed a 55-unit development on Soscol Avenue to house the hotel’s potential workforce, which Goldie called “the right thing to do” and “realistic for our time.”

In her speech, Napa Mayor Jill Techel praised the train and its owners for proving themselves good community partners and for their assistance in promoting Napa to the outside world.

Debbie Dever, owner of Vintage Sweet Shoppe in downtown Napa, attended the anniversary celebration with her mother, Dorothy Williams. Her family moved to Napa in the early 1970s, Dever said.

“I remember the controversy around the train, but I’ve always thought it was a great asset to the valley,” said Dever, adding that she’s appreciative of the business the train brings to downtown, and believes there to be even more room for the train to grow.

The train began its first significant renovation of its rolling stock in early 2018, Goldie said. It’s part of a larger vision the partners have for the train, “elevating” the on-board experience. Looking ahead, Goldie said, he’d like to see a commuter connection to Vallejo – he believes a reliable train service running north would have “very high usership.” For the immediate future, though, he and his partners want to ensure the train stays “culturally relevant.”

“I think this should be part of Napa Valley forever,” Goldie said, referencing the longevity of some of the train’s partners, like Charles Krug Winery.

“There’s no reason why the wine train can’t be here 100 years from now, providing good service,” he added.

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You can reach Sarah Klearman at (707) 256-2213 or sklearman@napanews.com.

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