Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Napa Wine Train:Sunset in California's "Bordeaux"


Story and photos by Dwight Casimere

The Napa Valley train prepares for its sunset journey

The well-appointed interior of the Vista Dome, Gourmet Express Dining Car and Lounge

Chef Kelly Macdonald in makes a Béarnaise sauce

Dwight The Wine Doctor with Jim Meadlock-sole proprietor Cain Vineyards

The Grand Barrel Tasting at Premiere Napa Weekend

Patricia Harbison-Vintner, Harbison Winery

Action at the Premiere Weekend Auction is hot and heavy with millions raised for charity

Ichizo Nakagawa, the high-bidder paid $125,000 for five cases of 2009 Scarecrow Cabernet Sauvignon at Premiere Napa Weekend, setting a record for a single auction lot. Record proceeds help fund the local trade association’s efforts to promote and protect the Napa Valley appellation

Dwight The Wine Doctor with Dennis Cakebread, Sales Director, Cakebread Cellars

Napa, CA—Sunset is a major event in the languid sundial that governs the Napa Valley. Goldenrod and crimson shards of light fleck their way across the rolling hills as the Napa Wine Train reels past the elaborate signs and stone walls that proclaim the names of some of the most coveted wines among connoisseurs. Cakebread, Mondavi, Louis Martini all reel past and into the middle distance like the credits rolling in a movie. This is just the beginning of the dinner hour and a leisurely journey through the beautiful Napa Valley wine country in the meticulously restored vintage rail cars of the Napa Valley Wine Train.

Dinner on the Napa Valley Wine Train is a trip back into the glorious past of rail travel, when the scions of industry and the gold barons of the California Gold Rush dined in private rail cars. Like those railcars of old, each of the dining cars on the Wine Train, either the Vista Dome or the Gourmet Express, is equipped with its own kitchen and a unique menu that spotlights the local cuisine and fresh ingredients of the Napa Valley. Departing at sunset, one experiences the romance and adventure of an antique train traveling through the mysterious Napa Valley night.

My journey on the Napa Valley Wine Train was the capstone to a spectacular weekend of wine tasting with the owners and vintners of the valley’s premiere boutique wineries. Napa Premiere Weekend was center pieced by a grand Barrel Tasting and Auction of rare lots of wine, especially created for that single event. The funds generated from the auction were donated to programs sponsored by the local vintners association to further education and public awareness of the winemaking industry.

After rubbing shoulders and tasting the exclusive, one-of-a-kind wines of the valley’s most storied winemakers, this was a chance to ease into a plush leather booth in the expertly refurbished 1915 Pullman Car lounge and savor the sight of the rolling hills and vineyards at sunset and sip some great wine along with Chef Kelly Macdonald’s superb cuisine.

The menu features environmentally responsible ingredients, including humanely raised, hormone-free meats and fresh, line-caught fish.

Schramsberg Champagne is the beverage of choice in the lounge cars as you gaze out of the picture window at the unobstructed view of the valley. Honduran mahogany paneling, etched glass partitions, brass accents and original artwork by Nepo bathe the eye in serene delight. A visit to the kitchen car shows the chefs in action, preparing sauces from scratch. It’s a marvel to watch the intricate preparations they are able to accomplish in such a limited space! Relaxing in the wine bar, a sommelier/waiter is ready to assist with the wine choices for the evening meal. Cakebread was mine, since I had just spent part of the afternoon with Dennis Cakebread, Sales Director for the pioneering Napa Valley vintner, who gave up a lucrative trucking business to take a gamble on an abandoned farm to build one of the most celebrated wineries in the Napa Valley. Cakebread Cabernet is one of the treasures of the winemaker’s art. It was just the thing to have with the local grass fed Grilled and Roasted Beef Tenderloin with Potato Sauté topped with Roasted Mozzarella Artichoke Heart. The Baby Lettuce Salad with Candied Walnuts and Smoked Goat Cheese in Honey Cider Vinaigrette and the Intermezzo of Harlequin Sorbet, a delicate trio of the train’s own Sorbets left little room for dessert, but I forged ahead anyway, with a ‘death-by-chocolate’ creation infused with zinfandel and fresh local berries and more ‘train-made’ sorbet. I downed a final sip of Cappuccino as the train pulled into the downtown Napa train station under a full moon that bathed the valley in its luminous glow.


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