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Aug 3, 2010 08:49 AM

Napa Valley Wine Train...please comment

I'm curious to hear the Hounds comment on the NVWT. What are your experiences with them as a customer or in the biz? I recently tried them and had a disappointing experience. My biggest issue was a lack of seasonal, local, fresh ingredients. Also, the whole evening was oddly lacking in a connection to wine country. There was no information about the valley or wineries, and no connection through the food. Except for the view out the window, this could have been a train anywhere in the US.

First course: cold plate with table grapes, cube of cheddar, chicken rillette (dry), two shrimp, slice of unripe tomato, sliver of dried ham, toast points. A mish-mash of ingredients.

Salad: mixed greens, perfectly dressed in light vin. Best part of meal.

Entree: bread rolls were basic and reminded me of store bought. Mains were old- fashioned banquet plates. Thick sauces over hunks of meat with some veggies tucked on the side of the plate. A sweet Demi glacé sauce on my pork was okay for what it was but really out of date, and a yam stuffed gypsy pepper was off and disconnected. Wife's tenderloin was cooked perfectly but lacking much flavor, asparagus side was just okay but out of season.

Desserts: an epic fail. Chocolate cake was a dense and sugary mess. Someone should be punished for the creme brûlée. Cold pudding with a refrigerated brûlée top. Made earlier in the day most likely.

Can't comment in wine because we brought our own. I think that was smart though.

What are your experiences? I yelped about this and they wrote back to say I am wrong. Does anyone here know where they get the food? Ever work on the train? For the prices they charge and the area they are trying to represent, I think they should live up to a higher standard.

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  1. Shane, I took the train as part of a PR gig several years ago and thought very similarly to you; an epic joke. It has been mostly lambasted by those living the valley as a black scar on an otherwise great tourist destination. Most locals wish the train would go away as the food is so bad as to be embarrassing to all the other food establishments in wine country.

    3 Replies
    1. re: CarrieWas218

      I saw in an article that some people call it Denny's on a train. I think that's a little harsh, but a comparison they have earned.

      Definitely falls into the tourist trap category.

      1. re: Shane Greenwood

        Denny's on the train! Well that's no good. We bought the Groupon last year and have yet to use it.

        However I didn't have the highest expectations for the food. I was thinking about upgrading to the glass top car which seems to have a better menu. I wonder if its even worth it or it will all be underwhleming.

        1. re: Foodie.wannabe

          We were there on the groupon deal too, so the sting wasn't as bad. But it still stung.

    2. Adding link

      Napa Valley Wine Train
      1275 McKinstry St, Napa, CA 94559

      1. Some better options for tourists who want to experience the valley:

        Oxbow Market: two blocks from the wine train station. Several food vendors and restaurants here. A great place to grab lunch and/or a glass of wine. Gott's Roadside is a good family spot for burgers.

        Drive up Hwy 29 and stop at a few wineries. The train follows this main artery but doesn't stop. By driving you see the same view and can stop at the wineries to take it all in. There are too many to list here, but don't miss Grigich.

        Yountville for dinner. Several amazing restaurants here that will give you a real taste of the Napa Valley. They range from ultimate high-end (The French Laundry), to more casual. Check out Ad Hoc and Redd.

        St Helena: this is the turnaround for the wine train. It's a cute town that has a lot of shopping and other places to eat. A better option for your souvenir dollar. And if you go just a little past the town, you'll find CIA Greystone with a good restaurant, a bar for drinks and small plates, and a cooks paradise cookware store, they also have demonstration classes that are a lot of fun.

        The French Laundry
        6640 Washington Street, Yountville, CA 94599

        Ad Hoc
        6476 Washington St., Yountville, CA 94599

        Greystone Restaurant
        2555 Main St St, Helena, CA

        1. I was in the glass top car a number of years ago and definitely echo the others on this thread - the food is sub-standard and this is not worth the price. Your money will definitely be spent better at any of the fine area restaurants. Even the train ride was disappointing. The train follows the main road for much of the trip so rather than rolling through the Napa countryside you're just paralleling the main road (29) most of the time. A leisurely drive in your car to a great restaurant is a much, much better choice.

          11 Replies
          1. re: 3crazydogs

            Here's the Napa Valley's Top 3 Tourist Traps:

            1. Castello di Amorosa
            2. The Wine Train
            3. The Oakville Grocery


              1. re: Shane Greenwood

                Dario Sattui offering affordable wines, a picnicking paradise and Castello di Amorosa. according to today's SFChron.

                1. re: wolfe

                  WTF is the Chron thinking? The Chron's coverage of the Bay Area's wineries is beyond horrible and verges on unethical. I'm so surprised because Jon Bonne is *very* talented, yet he insists that the winery reviews are about TOURISM AND NOT WINE. That so underestimates the intelligence of the Bay Area's eating/drinking community.

                  1. re: maria lorraine

                    I'm sorry that I don't know the emoticon for sarcasm or I would have put it at the beginning and the end of that sentence. That is why it follows TR and SG comments on the top 4 tourist traps.

                    1. re: maria lorraine

                      To be clear, Jon Bonne isn't on the byline for that Sattui article--but I think maria's point is that it's so bizarre to have his wonderful wine writing in the same section of the paper as PR copy masquerading as wine country travel interest pieces.

                      1. re: SteveG

                        Jon supervised the coverage. I asked him.

                      2. re: maria lorraine

                        To be fair, the article didn't say the wine was any good but was instead about the founder and the success he's made of the operation. I've always avoided the place like the plague, but one time eight years ago through poor planning on my part a visitor and I arrived in Napa Valley just after most tasting rooms closed. We were directed to V. Sattui as the only place open so went there and had a surprisingly good time with OK wine and very gracious staff. But I haven't been back :-)

                        1. re: Mick Ruthven

                          I actually give V. Sattui a little more credit than others; yes, it is set-up to be a giant tourist trap. And for many first-time wine newbies who have never been to the Napa Valley, this is exactly what they are seeking - a sort of Disneyland quintessential experience of more wine-related tschotskes than one could imagine, quick and easy food to eat on the grass, and a really diverse wine selection that covers every palate; from very sweet to bone dry.

                          Is it great wine? Of course not. But like many tourists who come to California and want Universal Studios, Hollywood Boulevard, the Golden Gate Bridge, and Fisherman's Wharf, V. Sattui is ALL that is personified in what is looked upon as "the Napa Valley experience." Personally, I am glad a place like V. Sattui exists - it is a bridge into wine tasting with very pleasant, personable employees who are really helpful and kind. There is an abundant of picnic food available and more parking and space for those tourists.

                          Do I recommend it to die-hard wine fans looking for great juice and an intimate, exceptional experience? No. But for someone just getting their feet wet who wants that glorified experience, sure - why not?

                  2. re: ThirstyReader

                    While I much prefer Dean and DeLuca, I really don't have much bad to say about Oakville Grocery. I like the one in Healdsburg much more than Napa, but what's so tourist-trappy about it in your opinion??

                    I'd definitely agree with the Wine Train comments, although we got lucky in the wine car with a very well-informed 'bartender' when we took our daughter on the train shortly after her 21st birthday. I WAS kindof turned off when the ride ended with a walk through the store hawking all the wines they served on the train. But I guess that's not much different from any winery tasting room setup when you think about it.

                    Haven't been to Castello di Amorosa yet, but I have no interest in it after my experience at Sattui, which I call the Walmart of wineries........ if the people at Walmart were on commission. Yuck. But ya gotta give them credit for wiring up the perfect tourist setup.

                    Oakville Grocery
                    124 Matheson St, Healdsburg, CA 95448

                2. Ugh. Ick. Despised by the local community.

                  A shame the 411 on the Wine Train didn't get to you before you booked, Shane.

                  3 Replies
                  1. re: maria lorraine

                    Agreed. But if one had the overwhelming desire to ride the train without the disappointment and indigestion, the first Friday night of every month there is a foodless train that lets you off for a while for St. Helena's CHEERS event, then returns.

                    Also holiday Santa trains

                    1. re: Junie D

                      Better just to avoid the Wine Train. As a business entity, it financially harmed countless wineries putting out good product when it abused federal train laws to force them to pay for track repairs at every driveway over the track, which hadn't been used in a half dozen decades.

                      The Napa Valley's chow and wine scene would be much better off without it.

                    2. re: maria lorraine

                      I kind of knew the deal with them but my wife got a 2-for-1 groupon coupon. At least we didn't pay full price. I guess the lesson is that there is usually a reason why a restaurant has to issue a 2 for 1 deal.

                      The most frustrating part of the experience is the response from the wine train rep. She sent me three messages basically defending their food as local, sustainable, and well executed. Clueless.

                      She sent me this link as proof of their quality: