One of our favorite excursions while visiting the Napa Valley is hopping aboard the Wine Train. Whether it’s a roundtrip up and down the valley enjoying the views and the phenomenal food or a one-way trip with that same gourmet cuisine and then a visit to a nearby winery, the Napa Valley Wine Train is a must-experience when you’re in town.
On a recent visit to wine country we enjoyed the one of a kind, whimsical Valley First Winery Tour that visits Raymond Vineyards for 2 hours prior to your lunch experience on the train. As always, you’re welcome to arrive to the train station 30 minutes before your scheduled departure for registration. Here I always like to enjoy a nice drink to get the day off on the right foot. Since it was close to lunch time, I enjoyed sweet sparkling moscato while we waited. For the Valley First Winery Tour, you and the group board a shuttle bus at the train station and are driven to Raymond Vineyards in St. Helena. During the ride along Silverado Trail you learn about the wineries along the way and talk about the terrain, climate, and grapes grown in this region. Upon arrival, the scene is set for a unique experience.
We were handed a glass and our first tasting as we were prepared to explore their Theater of Nature, facilities, and eclectic style of proprietor Jean-Charles Boisset.
Their two acre Theater of Nature is the largest educational exhibit on Biodynamic farming in the Napa Valley. It showcases how all the “actors” in the Theater of Nature play a crucial part in crafting quality wine, from the soil to the larger forces such as the lunar cycle.
Our guide refilled our glasses with about 5 wines and then we took a test, don’t worry, it’s really fun. A table is set with glasses and a worksheet with pen for what is the Sensory Evaluation portion of the tour. Can you name the components you smell in each individual wine? I have a really sensitive sniffer, it’s a blessing and curse really but I was sure I’d be able to determine the aromas from each wine. With choices of things like anise, espresso, tobacco, clove, and berries, I only got two of the four right. We entered the barrel cellar and were greeted by neon lights and mannequins that well shocked us at first, then we decided that this Vegas meets Victoria’s Secret meets 50 Shades of Grey display just sets this winery experience apart from any other.The Crystal Cellar was also a sight to see. Cellar boasts stainless steel walls, a mirrored bar and a collection of historical crystal decanters from Baccarat, the world’s premier hand-crafted luxury crystal maker. For $100 ($80 for club member) you can be a winemaker-for-a-day, blend your own wine and create your own bottle label. At any time you can purchase the wine you create for gifts for family and friends, or this experience itself makes a fabulous bachelor/bachelorette party or girl’s getaway activity!In the corridor of the senses, experience the color, smell and texture of wine beginning with the Touch Station where they can get a feel for how wine can display various textures on the palate. See the different color shades of wine displayed on the wall, and smell the distinct, complex aromas found in wine, all while enjoying a glass.
Of course, before you leave visit the tasting room where you’ll find a variety of gifts for purchase along with your wine selection (I went with a ’14 Pinot Noir Rose) and a wall straight out of Willy Wonka’s mind!
Back on the shuttle we meet up with the Wine Train at their halfway point in St. Helena. Here we board the 1917 Pullman dining car for lunch and our trip south back to the station. We’re greeted with a complimentary glass of Raymond Chardonnay or Cabernet, fitting considering our trip and we enjoy the sights as we trek along. An extensive wine list is also available for purchase plus beer and cocktails if you prefer and if you bring your own wine the corkage fee is $15. Our first course of baby lettuce salad arrives and I make sure I grab the candied walnuts off my husband’s plate before he notices.Our main courses include Roasted Beef Tenderloin and Pan Seared Breast of Chicken, both fork tender no knife needed. The beef is accompanied by potatoes and zucchini in a Cabernet reduction that you want to include in each and every bite. The chicken’s lemon-garlic-thyme burre blanc is a perfect tangy pairing to the carrot chickpea salad. The meal is topnotch as it consistently is aboard the wine train and don’t forget to make room for dessert! Usually we each get a different dessert to share, but this time we were both craving chocolate. The chocolate sin cake was smooth and fudgy just how I love my chocolate and we fell directly into a food coma after that.Sufficiently wined and dined we concluded our trip at 2:30 in the afternoon, just in time to check into our hotel and take a nap by the pool!
This tour had it all, a gourmet meal, a feast for the eyes, delicious wine tasting, and a wine education! For more information on the Valley First Winery Tour to Raymond Vineyards and other great Napa Valley Wine Train adventures, visit, WineTrain.com.
We were invited to experience this hosted excursion, all opinions 100% our own.