What could be a better way to enjoy wine than to travel through the gorgeous terrain that produces it with other people who love the grape?
The idea of enjoying wine country by rail has evolved into enormously popular tours from coast to coast over the last 20 years. One of the biggest attractions was started in 1990 by the late Vincent DeDomenico, the inventor of Rice-A-Roni. DeDomenico was looking to preserve old rail lines in northern California, and he came up with the concept of the Napa Valley Wine Train, which leaves downtown Napa daily from March through December.
The Napa Valley Wine Train now hosts 100,000 guests per year, and lunch and dinner trains are often sold out two months in advance for the harvest season in September and October. Wine lovers book the Vista Dome car, which offers nearly 180-degree views, well in advance for fall trips. "They want to see the whole experience," says Andrea Guzman, promotions and partnerships manager for the Napa Valley Wine Train.
Depending on the tour, the rail excursions can include lunch or dinner, stops at wineries, picnics or overnight stops at small hotels. For many visitors, the tours provide a site for proposals, a treat for Mother's Day or a venue for a small destination wedding. The Napa train is host to about half a dozen weddings a year. "We always get destination niche weddings of four to six people," Guzman says.
The Napa company has actually trademarked the term "Wine Train," but this style of rail tour is not confined to California. Travelers in New Jersey, Colorado and Missouri can tour wine country by train, too, either by Amtrak or by small, dedicated rail lines.
Read on for a rundown of what they offer and where to embark.