For the Love of Trains, Cuisine, and the Napa Valley

In the quarter century that the Napa Valley Wine Train has been operating, it has found a place in the hearts of thousands who have climbed aboard to dine in its authentic, beautiful cars.

Published: 1/13/2015

In the quarter century that the Napa Valley Wine Train has been operating, it has found a place in the hearts of thousands who have climbed aboard to dine in its authentic, beautiful cars. It was founded in 1989, by Vincent DeDomenico, who dedicated himself to creating an unmatched luxury rail experience in the heart of Napa wine country. In 2014, the Napa Valley Railroad celebrated 150 years of preservation and the Wine Train’s 25th year anniversary. Still family owned, the Wine Train is operated by an energetic team dedicated to giving passengers a memorable, romantic Napa Valley dining experience as they glide from Napa to St. Helena and back again.

The Wine Train is made up of a fascinating string of beautiful antique railcars, each with its own story to tell. They were purchased from different sources around the country and then meticulously refurbished. Several Pullman cars, originally built in 1915 and 1917, had many lives before they became part of the Wine Train. They now serve as dining cars, lounge cars, onboard kitchens, and a deli car used for special events. The Vista Dome car, built in 1952, gives diners an elevated view of the Napa Valley, and the Grappa Power Car, originally a box car, was designed with a one-of-kind walkway for passengers.

Passengers aren’t the only ones who fall in love with this train. While still in college, Kim Powers went to work as a summer intern for the Wine Train. “The first time I rode the Train was my very first day, and I was so enamored with it,” she says. Now a full-time Wine Train employee, Kim says she has a real connection with the train cars. “They all have individual personalities,” Kim says. “I think my favorite engine is Locomotive 73, which was converted to Compressed Natural Gas (CNG). It is now a clean energy vehicle, saving more than 220,000 gallons of diesel since it began operating in 2003.”

Recently, Kim was able to demonstrate her passion for the train by creating a compelling sculpture, The Iron Vineyard, made from old railroad spikes welded together to form grapevines. The sculpture is on permanent display near the entrance of the train depot in downtown Napa. The Wine Train is also a lure for top caliber chefs, who appreciate a challenge. Each day, lunch and dinner are prepared and served flawlessly aboard the train from three separate onboard kitchens. As often as possible, ingredients are resourced from local fields, and the poultry, meats, and fish are procured from nearby farms and ranches. Even the bread is baked fresh daily. The Wine Train offers three separate dining experiences, each with its own dedicated kitchen. The Silverado Car, an open-air Hollywood western railcar, serves lunch from May through October; the Gourmet Express Package, in elegant 1915-1917 Pullman Cars, serves lunch and dinner year round; and the riveting Vista Dome Car offers lunch, dinner, and a dramatic view. In the car holding the main kitchen, passengers can watch food being prepared through a panel of windows. The whole culinary operation is overseen by Chef Kelly MacDonald, who makes preparing exquisite meals on a moving train seem effortless.

Whether it’s their first time or their 20th, passengers cherish their time aboard the Wine Train. Kira Devitt, Vincent DeDomenico’s granddaughter and Wine Train Director of Marketing, frequently gets letters from people thankful for the memories. Beyond a leisurely meal and time spent aboard the train, guests can sign up for a special winery tour, including the region’s only evening winery tour, or another special event, like a Murder Mystery ride or Vintner’s Lunch. As Kira says, “There are many great ways to experience the Napa Valley, but people always remember the time they’ve spent with us.”

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As seen in the issue Spring 2015 of Touring & Tasting Magazine.

“The train cars may be massive, but they are beautiful.”
Kim Powers, Wine Train Team Member 

“People are always amazed at the freshness of the cuisine.”
Kelly MacDonald, Executive Chef

“Time spent on the Wine Train is time you’ll never forget.”
Kira Devitt, Founder's Granddaughter