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Wine Wednesday: Riding the Napa Valley Wine Train

Napa Valley Wine Train“All aboard!” I boarded the 1915-1917 Pullman Le Petite Gourmet dining car and took my seat at the picture window on the Napa Valley Wine Train. The Napa Valley Wine Train runs runs for 36 miles from McKinstry Street Station in Napa all the way to St. Helena through the heart of the world famous wine region.
Napa Valley Wine Train

Some of the scenery as you pass through the heart of Napa Valley

As the Napa Valley Wine Train chugged out of McKinstry Street Station, we traveled north through Napa Valley toward Rutherford and I enjoyed a three-course gourmet lunch along the way. Meals are prepared under the direction of Executive Chef Kelly MacDonald right on board in a specially crafted kitchen car. You can even watch the meal preparation through a glass wall! Lunch includes choice of soup or salad, a selection of seasonal entrees including a daily chef special, and dessert and coffee.

Guests can ride the Napa Valley Wine Train for the full 36 miles round trip or can book at winery tour. I disembarked in Rutherford for a tour and wine tasting at Grgich Hills Estate. Grgich Hills founder and winemaker Miljenko “Mike” Grgich became famous after he crafted the 1973 Chateau Montelena Chardonnay that won the historic 1976 Paris Tasting. Not only was I excited to visit Grgich Hills Estate because I had just watched the movie Bottle Shocked, which is about Chateau Montelena and the 1976 tasting, but also because Mike Grgich hails from Croatia, where he also has a winery still today.

Grgich Hills Estate

Grgich Hills Estate

Grgich Hills Estate

Grgich Hills has 336 total acres across five vineyards throughout Napa Valley. Because the climate varies from vineyard to vineyard, different grapes are produced based on which is the best environment for them to grow. 17.3 acres of Cabernet and one acre of Petit Verdot surround the estate in Rutherford, the green vines practically sparkling in the sun.

Grgich Hills EstateThe Grgich Hills Estate is most famous for its Chardonnay, which has been served at State Dinners by some of the world’s leaders such as Presidents Reagan and Clinton, Queen Elizabeth II, and French President François Mitterrand. While I wasn’t so lucky as to taste the 1973 Chateau Montelena Chardonnay, I did taste a 2010 Chardonnay. It was crisp with flavors of tropical fruit and white peaches, perfect and refreshing on such a hot day as my visit.

Grgich Hills Estate

Wine tasting at Grgich Hills Estate

Grgich Hills doesn’t just produce the white wine they are so famous for. We tasted a 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon produced from a blend of grapes at the Rutherford and Calistoga vineyards. Full of rich scents like black cherry, black licorice, and a hint of roasted coffee, our guide recommended that this would be perfect with barbecue.

Grgich Hills Estate

Inside the Grgich Hills Estate

The Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon were my favorites and had I not been traveling carry-on luggage only, I would have been toting at least a bottle each with me all the way back home to Italy. I did get sent home, as did all the other guests, with my very own wine glass with the Grgich Hills name and logo etched into it. The Chardonnay retails for $42 per bottle and the Cabernet Sauvignon retails for $60 per bottle.

Napa Valley Wine Train

Lounge car

We heard the train horn in the distance and soon it was time to board the Napa Valley Wine Train again as it pulled up along the Grgich Hills Estate. Chocolate tarts were served in the lounge car with coffee as we chugged along back toward McKinstry Street Station in downtown Napa. Perhaps it was the wine, but after dessert I made my way back to the caboose and was more than happy to return a wave to passersby.

Know Before You Go

  • The Grgich Hills Winery Tour is available every lunch and costs $144 per person. Wine on board the train is not included.
  • A welcome glass of wine prior to departure at the McKinstry Street Station is included and wine can be brought on board for a small corkage fee of $15 for 750ml bottle.
  • On board the train, visit Napa’s most unique tasting bar which is usually stocked with 30-40 boutique Napa Valley wines. At the tasting bar, guests can sample four tastes of wine for $10.
  • Our Active Duty Military readers can get $25 off the Gourmet Express Experience or the Vista Dome
    packages. To receive the discount, call 707-253-2111 or email reservations@winetrain.com and mention you are active duty. You will be required to present military ID at the train station.

Thank you to the Napa Valley Wine Train for hosting me on the Grgich Hills Winery Tour. As always, all opinions are entirely my own and I assure you I was not influenced with glasses of wine.

Jennifer Dombrowski

Jennifer Dombrowski is a location independent globe trotter who is based in Prata di Pordenone, Italy. She works as a social media and communications strategist and is an award-winning travel writer. She is also a travel correspondent on Traveling on the American Forces Radio Network. Jdomb's Travels was named one of the top travel blogs to watch by the Huffington Post and has been featured by top publications such as CNN, Buzzfeed , and The Telegraph. Her iPhoneograpy has also been featured on publications such as USA Today and Travel + Leisure. Google+

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22 comments

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  1. Lisa Fricke

    Oh wow! Sounds fun. Can't wait to do this too.

    [Reply]

    Jdomb's Travels Reply:

    Now Italy just needs a wine train that stops off at vineyards! ;-)

    [Reply]

  2. Ali

    I’m not the biggest wine fan but wine tastings/tours are always fun. Sounds like you had a great time!

    [Reply]

    Jennifer Dombrowski Reply:

    I didn’t like wine at all, except for a sweet glass of Moscato every now and again, until we really started experimenting with wines in Italy. Now I absolutely love trying wine around the world. Malbec is one of my absolute favorites so I am dying to go to Chile!

    [Reply]

  3. Andi of My Beautiful Adventures

    When I was there in December I didn’t have time to take the train sadly, but I definitely will when I return.

    [Reply]

    Jennifer Dombrowski Reply:

    Oh definitely do on your next visit, Andi! It feels like such a luxurious experience.

    [Reply]

  4. Cathy Sweeney

    My husband and I were given a ride on the wine train as a wedding gift. Loved it! I love wine country and the train gives you a different and very fun perspective.

    [Reply]

    Jennifer Dombrowski Reply:

    What a fun wedding gift to receive , Cathy! I agree that the Wine Train gives you a different perspective. I loved hanging out on the caboose as we chugged past the vineyards.

    [Reply]

  5. D.J. - The World of Deej

    We went on the wine train over the summer (I wrote about it too:) and had a great experience. Definitely a cool way to see Napa…

    [Reply]

    Jennifer Dombrowski Reply:

    I’ll have to check out your post on the Wine Train, Deej! It is a cool experience. I missed biking through the vineyards but that just gives me reason to go back!

    [Reply]

  6. Leigh

    We saw the wine train as we biked through Napa but didn’t have time to ride it – and nor did we do a tasting at Grgich Hills Winery. However an old neighbour in West Vancouver is married to a fellow and and there is a connection somewhere to that winery as its the one she told me call the owner and use her name. I wish I had followed up on her suggestion.

    [Reply]

    Jennifer Dombrowski Reply:

    What a fantastic connection to have, Leigh! Definitely stop by Grgich Hills the next time you are in Napa. I’d like to visit their vineyard in Croatia sometime and see what sort of wines they produce there.

    [Reply]

  7. jill

    That’s really cool. Didn’t know such train rides exists. It’d make a perfect give for the inlaws.

    [Reply]

    Jennifer Dombrowski Reply:

    What a fun gift to give! My parents rode the Wine Train about a year before my visit and they’re still raving about it.

    [Reply]

  8. Turtle

    What a great idea to use the train to get around. It means you can indulge in a few glasses of that fantastic wine without worrying about getting back in a car and having to drive!

    [Reply]

    Jennifer Dombrowski Reply:

    Absolutely! Otherwise, you really have to drive from vineyard to vineyard and have a designated driver. I wish Italy had something like this to get from vineyard to vineyard along some of the wine roads.

    [Reply]

  9. Pola (@jettingaround)

    Wine and trains – I love both, but somehow haven’t done the Napa train yet. I think next time it might be in order. Cool pictures, Jennifer!

    [Reply]

    Jennifer Dombrowski Reply:

    Thanks, Pola! Yes, definitely include the Wine Train as a must when visiting Napa Valley!

    [Reply]

  10. Andrea

    Such a relaxing way to explore the region!

    [Reply]

    Jennifer Dombrowski Reply:

    Definitely a relaxing way to explore! It was so nice not to have to worry about driving. I could just enjoy the scenery go by. And since I was only in Napa on a short break, this was a great way to have a sit down lunch without cutting in to time needed to explore.

    [Reply]

  11. Abby

    Very cool. I’ve been to Napa many times but always wondered how the wine train works. Thanks!

    [Reply]

    Jennifer Dombrowski Reply:

    Lucky you, Abby! We’d love to go back to Napa Valley and it’s a shame we didn’t take some trips there when we lived in the US. You’ll have to check out the Wine Train on your next visit!

    [Reply]

  12. Jema

    That looks amazing! I love your photographs. The photo of the grapevines makes me want to run barefoot in the sun.

    We will be traveling to California in May, wine country looks like a great destination!

    [Reply]

    Jennifer Dombrowski Reply:

    You should definitely visit wine country while in California, Jema! Such a beautiful area and so much to do!

    [Reply]

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