I love wine. I also love trains (without being a train spotter – which is a different thing altogether). It would have been entirely rude therefore, to pass up the opportunity to combine the two on a recent trip to Napa, California.
The current train service carries eager visitors to the region from Napa up through the valley through Yountville, Oakville and Rutherford to the pretty town of St Helena, where the locomotive is shunted to the other end of the train for the return journey. The interiors of the gorgeous Pullman carriages endeavour to recapture the golden age of train travel with mahogany panelling, mahogany panelling, brass accents, engraved glass partitions, and plush fabric armchairs.
After the initial glass of wine, further drinks are not included in the ticket price. However it was hard to resist, with all those ripening vines outside the window, and a nice appetiser to get us started. It was amazing to think that there are around 400 wineries in the Napa Valley, which covers an area of only 30 miles long by 5 miles – at its widest point. The vineyards cover almost every open space and can be considered an agricultural metaphor for the fecundity of America’s industry in general. The first commercial winery opened here in 1861 and by 1889 there were already 140 wineries in operation. Neither the curse of phylloxera nor the era of Prohibition irrevocably damaged the production of Napa Valley wine which now exceeds 41,500 gallons a year.
This vision of food made me eager for lunch which was called just as we pulled into St Helena. This for me was certainly the best order to do things – take in the scenery, have a drink and then enjoy lunch. There were so many delicious sounding options on the menu that it was hard to choose only one (one member of our party couldn’t bear to make the decision and had to plump for two main courses). Everything tasted at least as good as it had sounded and it was quite an effort at the end of our wonderful 3 hour journey to prise ourselves from our chairs. However, the thought of another scheduled wine tasting helped with motivation.