Some of the happiest people in the valley could be found at 10 a.m. Monday morning at the Napa Valley Wine Train depot.
There were newlyweds. At least one family reunion group. A 40th birthday celebration.
They were all among the first visitors to ride the Napa Valley Wine Train in 14 months.
More than a year since rail rides were shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Wine Train is rolling again.
“I can’t express how amazing it feels to see a staple of the Napa Valley back on track, pun intended," said Steven Lampkin, area director of finance for Noble House Hotels & Resorts. “Hearing that train whistle again after so long was music to my ears.”
“It feels like the first day of school,” added Larry Dougherty, a wine educator at the Wine Train.
Arriving before the planned 10:15 a.m. departure from the depot at 1275 McKinstry St., one set of guests, a family group from San Antonio, said they planned their post-Covid reunion around the reopening of the Wine Train.
Due to the pandemic, the exact date was a bit of a moving target, but Joseph Wood of San Antonio kept checking and rechecking the availability of the tour.
“I was determined to be on this train,” said Wood.
“We’ve never been on the Wine Train,” and now that they are all vaccinated, “we wanted to do it,” said Dorthea Bridgest, also from San Antonio.
“We love wine,” she said. The family wanted to try different wines, see the Napa Valley scenery, “and just enjoy the day.”
To celebrate their mini-reunion, they’d even made matching embroidered navy face masks, “Napa Trip, 2021,” they read.
Jenny Langhorst of Colorado was celebrating her 40th birthday, which happened to be on the day the train resumed rides.
“I’m so happy to be here,” said Langhorst. She and her small group of guests were staying in the Valley for about five days.
“We’ve been waiting for six months” for the train to reopen, she said. “It was the one thing I really wanted to do.”
Newlyweds Ashly and Erick Soriano of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, said they felt “super lucky” to have scored tickets for this first 2021 run of the Wine Train. And on their honeymoon, no less.
The new couple said they were also going to Los Angeles, San Diego, and Las Vegas, but “we always wanted to see Napa Valley” and “this is the highlight of our trip,” said the new Mrs. Soriano.
For them, the Wine Train is a signature wine country experience. “It’s a must when you’re in Napa Valley."
Locals last week might have heard the Wine Train horn and seen the train rumble down the valley. Those were test runs, said Lampkin.
There were more than 22 miles of track to inspect, he said, “and we have someone go over every inch.”
Reactivating the train after a 14-month layoff “is a massive undertaking, to say the least,” he said.
“It required months of planning and several weeks of incredibly hard work from our team.”
Lampkin explained how maintenance teams “worked tirelessly to inspect, repair and update all of our locomotives, rail cars and … track.”
The team also installed custom Plexiglas partitions between seating for the safety of our guests and other safety precautions.
Food and beverage teams, marketing and reservations, and human resources were other key departments, he said.
For now, the Wine Train is offering a single Legacy Tour each day. The train leaves at 10:15 a.m. and returns at 4:15 p.m. Such a package includes a four-course meal aboard the train followed by tours and tastings at three curated wineries. They'll also stop at the Napa Valley Welcome sign.
The cost for the excursion varies depending on the day of the week but usually runs around $379, said Lampkin.
In normal times, as many as 700 people could ride the Wine Train in one day, said Lampkin. However, during this transition, the train will only make one run a day with up to 48 guests, seated in two groups on the train.
As of Monday morning, 37 guests were scheduled to board and all 37 arrived in time for the departure.
It’s a smaller group than normal, said Dougherty. “Small but important.”
One of the few active historic passenger railroads in the U.S., the "iconic wine country experience" will also celebrate its reopening by offering complimentary tickets to local healthcare workers to thank them for their services, said a news release. Details are to be announced.
The Napa Valley Wine Train also partnered with OLE Health to host a temporary vaccination clinic at their train station since mid-April to support local efforts in vaccinating the community.
“We are prouder than ever to be part of the Napa Valley community after witnessing its resilience throughout the pandemic and want to express our gratitude to our local healthcare heroes,” said Lampkin.
In 2015, Noble House Hotels & Resorts, Ltd. — a collection of luxury hotels and resorts — entered into a partnership with Brooks Street, a California-based real estate development and investment company, to purchase Wine Train.