For the first time in its 27-year history, Napa Valley Wine Train is planning a service that will deposit tourists at a string of Upvalley wineries for tours and tastings.
Participants say this elegant service, called “Quattro Vino,” is a way for wineries to host visitors without further congesting Highway 29.
Wine Train’s new owners, Noble House Hotels & Resorts and partner Brooks Street, said the new excursion train will stop at four Napa Valley wineries.
For $249 per person, riders will board a new one-car train – a second car will be added shortly – for a six-hour, 36-mile tour up and down the valley.
The train will stop at the Robert Mondavi, Charles Krug, Merryvale and V. Sattui wineries in Oakville and St. Helena where guests will enjoy tours and tastings. On board they’ll choose from a “small bites” menu. The new excursion is set to launch on June 1.
“We are incredibly excited to launch the Quattro Vino Tour as a new Napa Valley Wine Train offering,” said Pat Colee, chairman and founder of Noble House.
Before Noble House and partners bought the train, the only winery tours offered were mostly one-way train excursions and the winery was reached via bus or shuttle. Those tours will continue. The traditional Wine Train lunch and dinner trains will continue as well.
However, passengers taking the Quattro Vino tours will simply hop off the train and walk to the wineries, each located adjacent to the tracks.
Tom Davies, president at V. Sattui, said he was “really excited” to participate after being approached about the Quattro Vino tour.
“We need to find ways to get visitors out of their cars, especially with the gridlock we’ve been having lately” and the construction on Highway 29, Davies said.
“Anything we can do to get guests out of their cars and visit the winery is a win for the community,” he said.
Since purchasing the Napa Valley Wine Train in September 2015, Noble House has been making small enhancements to the Wine Train, including buying the first 36-seat 1920s Pullman rail car that will be the home of Quattro Vino. A second 1920s Pullman “open” car will also be added to the Quattro Vino tour.
The new Pullmans and current Wine Train cars are undergoing an interior makeover to feature “a hip and contemporary vibe” while preserving the “classic elegance and charm” of the cars, Colee said.
“The cars will have a lot of character,” reminiscent of the eras in which they were built, said Colee.
There will only be one Quattro Vino train per day, said Colee. Using sections of parallel tracks along the route, there is room for a train to pull over so another can pass, he said.
“We don’t want to make it too commercial. We want it to be a very special experience,” said Colee. There are only four stops because there has to be enough time for riders to get off the train, tour and taste at each winery and then get back on in six hours, he noted.
The idea of tourists getting on and off the train was once a hot button issue for locals. When the Wine Train opened for business in 1989, some residents protested any stops at all, saying the train would disgorge hordes of people at one time and ruin the quality of life for locals.
Colee said he hasn’t heard about any such controversy today.
“I think that issue is over with, and we’ve had nothing but enthusiasm about what we are planning,” said Colee.
The train is regulated by the Public Utilities Commission, and the new ownership has received permission to stop on the tracks, said Jake Donoghue, chief executive officer of Noble House Hotels & Resorts.
No other train uses the tracks, which are owned by Noble House and partner Brooks Street.
As for other changes planned for the Wine Train, Colee said “we have a lot of ideas,” including “doing something special to the station itself,” but nothing they could discuss yet.
The railroad line was originally built and operated by Samuel Brannan in 1864 as a tourist railroad to take visiting San Franciscans as they arrived by ferry in south Napa to Calistoga. In the 1980s, it was purchased by Vince DeDomenico, the man behind the Rice-a-Roni brand of products, the “San Francisco treat” made famous by television ads featuring San Francisco cable cars and a memorable jingle.
Before the purchase by Noble House and partners in late 2015, the Wine Train was embroiled in a lawsuit when a group of mostly black women was asked to leave the train for reportedly being too boisterous. They filed a lawsuit that was recently settled.