There are various ways to tour wine country that will not have frustrated locals piled up behind your weaving rental, each personally transforming the place into Whine Country. You can bring along a DD (designated driver) and drive it safely, you can hire a limo, ride in a tour bus (please no), you can ride a bike if you really space out your tastings. One of us has even tasted on horseback, until the horse decided it was closing time and lit out for home through the vineyards. But the quirkiest way is to take a train.
Yes, you can do that in Quirkutopia, just not to commute anywhere – just to drink wine. In 1984 the railroads was ready to abandon the only rail line in Napa County, one that dated to 1865. The valley organized and went searching for wealthy investors, not in shortage in that inland valley. The result was the Napa Wine Train.
The train was lovingly restored using historical cars from 1915 to 1917. Honduran mahogany, polished brass, velvet and etched glass make you think you are on the Orient Express.
Most rides are three hours long, starting in the city of Napa, switching back at St. Helena. You move at a leisurely 12 miles per hour, so photography is easy. Dessert is served in the comfortable lounge cars where every swiveled chair has a window.
Before you leave the station you will be taught the art of wine tasting; sip-gurgle-spit or swallow. Then as you board you can profess your love on the Love Lock Bridge. You bring your own lock or buy one there, write your and your love’s names on it or have them engraved at the station, then fasten it to the bridge. There are love locks appearing on famous bridges throughout Europe and more recently in Asia. Ones near trains are supposed to magnetically interact with the fields generated by the trains passing. If you feel a certain magnetic frisson as you seal your lock, attribute it to your love or the lock.
You can get really quirky, and forego the gourmet, multi-course meals made from local organic goodies and ride with the engineer in the locomotive and have a brown bag lunch instead.
The Napa Wine Train offers a variety of excursions through the vineyards. You can enjoy a meal, then sip wine as the train reveals the beautiful valley, and then be dropped off at a vineyard for a tour and tasting a motor coach returns you to the station. On one special journey, you can solve a murder mystery that takes place as you dine on a gourmet meal in the elegant Pullman cars (think Orient Express and Agatha Christi). You can do it sipping champagne by moonlight from one of the first glass-domed observation cars ever made.
At the switchback stop, the locomotive is moved from one end of the train to the other for the return trip. The viewing platforms at the ends of the trains may lure you into making an election speech and creating your own whistle stop. Or at least a wet-your-whistle stop.
It’s not a cheap ride, but the $129 on up includes the posh lunch and for a sentimental, romantic outing starting with a love lock, its reasonable in an unreasonable way.