All Aboard the Napa Valley Wine Train!

Operating on the rail line first built in 1864, the Napa Valley Wine Train is a treasure chest of history, romance, and culinary excellence.

Published: 6/17/2014

Operating on the rail line first built in 1864, the Napa Valley Wine Train is a treasure chest of history, romance, and culinary excellence. It was founded 25 years ago as a solution to a local dilemma: the rail line was abandoned by Southern Pacific in 1984 and local citizens fought to preserve the track. They approached Vincent DeDomenico, inventor of Rice-A-Roni, and asked him to invest. Vincent dove right in and bought the entire operation. Over the next several years, the company acquired a variety of antique rail cars and turned them into an elegant dining train, which launched in September 1989. This year, the Napa Valley Wine Train is celebrating its 25th anniversary. It is still family owned, and offers one of the nation’s most unique culinary wine touring experiences.

The train travels from its own delightful station—complete with a coffee and wine bar and gift shop—in downtown Napa, to St. Helena, where the engines are switched and the train reverses its direction. Passengers choose from a long list of options for both lunch and dinner: they can stay on the train the entire time and enjoy a leisurely gourmet meal in one of three dining cars, preceded by a first course, or followed by dessert in a lounge car. They can also opt for a VIP tour of a winery and then embark on the train for a sumptuous repast.

Sarah and Alan Montague took their first voyage on the Napa Valley Wine Train just three months after they moved to the town of Napa. “We really enjoyed the food, the drink, and the scenery,” Alan says. “And to be honest, we were surprised by how delicious our lunch was. Everything was fresh, hot, clearly well prepared and presented. The beverage selection was wide and the wine pairings went great with our meals.”

Kansas City residents Trenice and Jason Noelker include a ride on the Wine Train each time they visit the Napa Valley. “Our first trip was about five years ago and we fell in love with the entire experience: from the food and wine pairings to the historic dining cars to the views of the valley,” Jason explains. “The slow pace of the train allows you to really take in the vineyards and majestic mountain views. You just can’t get that while driving in a car.”

There truly is something for everyone.

Train and History Buffs

Each Wine Train car has its own fascinating history. There are several 1915–17 Pullman cars that have been carefully restored to their original glory, with mahogany, brass, and etched glass. These cars now serve as dining and onboard kitchen cars. One lovingly preserved 1952 Vista Dome Car serves as a lofty dining room. There’s also a boxcar (aptly named the Grappa Power Car) that’s been converted to power the train. It may be the only power car in existence with a walkway for passengers. Even the locomotives have stories to tell. Three are diesel and one is fueled by compressed natural gas.


Under the skilled direction of Chef Kelly Macdonald, the Napa Valley Wine Train prepares exquisite fare for memorable lunches and dinners flawlessly served on a moving train. The Wine Train has three onboard kitchens and a prep kitchen in its train yard. The main kitchen has a panel of windows where you can watch your meal being prepared. “Fresh and sustainable” is Executive Chef Kelly’s mantra. As often as possible, ingredients are resourced locally. Fresh produce is picked from local fields; poultry, meats, and fish are raised in eco-conscious, low stress environments; and the oven-fresh bread is baked daily on board. Everything is prepared daily and cooked to order aboard the train.


In the past 25 years, the Napa Valley Wine Train has become an integral part of the scenery. It moves at a maximum speed of 18 miles per hour, so it sets a leisurely pace for passengers and for those who wave as it passes by. Alan and Sarah, who now live in Napa and know the southern half of the valley pretty well, plan to ride the train again. “We might try the trip that includes a tour of Grgich Hills,” he says. “Our tour of Raymond Vineyards had such a nice, personal feel to it. The wines were nice and the train folks who accompanied us seemed naturally friendly.”


For Trenice and Jason, the specialness of the experience goes beyond the scenery, food, and wine. “We really enjoy interacting with the other guests on the train,” Trenice says. “It’s always interesting to meet people from all over the country.” One particular Wine Train experience the Noelkers fondly recall was a biweekly vintner’s lunch. “The chef paired each menu item with wines from one Napa Valley winery. It was awesome,” Trenice recalls. “We’ll definitely do that again.”


Since its inaugural voyage in September 1989, the Napa Valley Wine Train has remained a family-owned business. In fact, today’s Director of Marketing and Public Relations Kira Devitt is Vincent DeDomenico’s granddaughter. “2014 is a milestone year for us,” she says. “It’s our silver anniversary and the 150th year for the rail corridor on which we operate and protect. I hope everyone finds a time to ride and celebrate with us.”

For schedules, details, and more information, visit

As seen in the issue Summer/Fall 2014 of Touring & Tasting Magazine.