If you haven’t heard of the Napa Valley Wine Train, it’s essentially a train that takes you around Napa Valley, California. The winery tours also include stops at 1-3 different wineries. It doesn’t get much better than that, does it? I bought Austin tickets to the wine train for Christmas back in 2018, but I never wrote about it! Keep reading to hear about what our experience was and if I would recommend the Napa Valley Wine Train going forward!
More details on the Napa Valley Wine Train
The Napa Valley Wine Train is an actual train that takes you on a tour of up to three different wineries in Napa Valley. There are different options, but the tour we did included meals and private group tastings to each of the wineries we visited. When I say “private group tastings,” I mean everyone on the train sticks together and has the tasting as a group. This was a really fun way to meet people and make friends with the people you’re drinking wine with all day!
The rails that the wine train uses were built back in 1864 and were originally owned by Samuel Brannan and used to transport guests to his spa resort. Later on, he needed to sell and the railroad became property of California Pacific Railroad. Fast forward to 1984 – the railroad was no longer as important as it once was, so the state of California wanted to sell the property to at least make a profit on that.
However, Napa Valley residents didn’t want to see the railroad abandoned. In 1987, Vincent DeDomenico, the inventor of Rice-A-Roni, invested in Napa Valley Wine Train Inc. and they were able to buy the whole operation from California Pacific Railroad. The first passenger trip was taken in 1989 and has been running ever since.
How much does it cost?
There are several different options when it comes to train tours. They offer half-day tours, full-day tours, train rides with lunch or dinner, and special events like a murder mystery train ride. The price usually depends on which day of the week you decide to go (it’ll be cheaper on a weekday).
Here are the cost breakdowns of each tour:
Full-Day Tour: $340-385 per person
Choose between The Legacy Tour, The Estate Tour, The Castle Winery Tour, and The Ambassador Winery Tour. The Legacy and Estate Tours each take you to 3 different wineries. They’re about 6 hours total – 3 hours on board and 3 hours at the wineries. They come with tastings at each winery and a 4-course meal on-board the train.
The Castle Winery Tour is a bit shorter at 3.5 hours, but you spend a lot more time (two hours) at the Castello Di Amorosa. The Ambassador Winery Tour is also 3.5 hours and takes you to two different wineries.
If you want my opinion, Castello Di Amorosa was the BEST winery in Napa Valley, however, I wouldn’t do the Castle Winery Tour. Just go there on your own and enjoy a tasting! For the wine train, I’d suggest the Legacy Tour or the Estate Tour to get the most out of your day.
Here is more info on the Legacy Tour!
Half-Day Tour: $215-$245 per person
For half-day tours, you can choose between Grgich Hills Winery Tour and Raymond Winery Tour. Each of these options is a total of 3 hours that consists of a 1.5 hour train ride and a 1.5 hour tour and tasting of one winery. They also come with a multiple-course, gourmet lunch.
Dining Experience (Vista Dome Lunch/Dinner): $235-$275 per person
The Napa Valley Wine Train offers a couple different dining options, the first bring the Vista Dome. The Vista Dome train is unique in that the sides are almost entirely glass to give you the most incredible views of Napa Valley. The dining experiences are different from the winery tours in that you’re not actually stopping at any wineries.
The lunch tours include a 3 hour train ride and the dinner tours are 2 hours total. They each come with a multiple-course, gourmet meal.
You can find more info on the Vista Dome here!
Dining Experience (Gourmet Express Lunch/Dinner): $160-$180 per person
The Gourmet Express option takes place in the wine train’s vintage train car. Again you’re not stopping at any wineries. The lunch tour is 3 hours total, while the dinner option is 2 hours. The meals are both multiple courses and made of local, gourmet food.
Murder Mystery Dinner: $250 per person
The Napa Valley Wine Train also offers a couple different special events throughout the year! The Murder Mystery dinner happens once a month (typically on a Saturday). Each month has a different theme and while you’re eating dinner, you’ll also be solving a mystery! Each dinner is multiple courses and the entire ride is about two hours.
You can find more info on the Murder Mystery Dinner here!
Thanksgiving Dinner: $175 per person
The second special event this year is on Thanksgiving! You’ll get a multiple course, Thanksgiving-themed dinner and a train ride lasting about 3.5 hours.
Interested in having Thanksgiving dinner on a train? Click here!
They also have special pricing for wedding parties or if you need a hotel stay as well, but I hope this gives you an idea of what you’ll be paying for a winery tour and/or dining experience. Given our financial status, this certainly isn’t something we can do whenever we want – it was something special we did. Like I mentioned above, the full day tour was Austin’s entire Christmas present one year!
I think the most popular options for the wine train are the half and full day tours because you actually get off the train and tour wineries in Napa Valley. If these are the two you’re deciding between, keep in mind that the half-day tours are about 3 hours total and take you to one winery with lunch. The full-day tours are up to 6 hours and take you to up to 3 different wineries with a full 4-course meal on-board. I ended up choosing one of the full-day tours simply because it included so much more for the price.
Want to cut down on cost? Our flights to and from Napa Valley and our hotel was completely free! Learn how you can travel for free this year!
How Our Experience Was
Austin and I did the Legacy Tour which was a total of six hours and took us to three different wineries. We arrived at the train station around 10am and boarded the train shortly thereafter. We were greeted with some sparkling wine and a tasty treat. The train was beautiful. It had a vintage feel to it with large windows so we could see all of the rolling hills and vineyards as we passed.
The wineries we were supposed to go to were Mondavi, Charles Krug, and V. Sattui. However, something was going on with Charles Krug and we couldn’t stop there, so they took us to Beringer instead. All three wineries were incredible. They gave us a short tour, then a tasting, and then gave us time to either walk around the property or decide which wines we were going to buy to take home with us.
Around lunch time, we had the choice of a couple different options on board. Austin and I each got a different meal, but both were fantastic. We were amazed that food that good could be made on board a train! We were also served dessert on our way back to the train station after the third winery tour.
The people we met on the train were also very nice. We noticed quickly that we were the youngest couple there which honestly makes sense given the price tag. I’m not sure how many 23-year olds would pay over $600 for a wine tour, but it’s something we valued and really wanted to try! Keep that in mind, though. The wine train isn’t a party bus with loud music and dancing – it was a very calm, relaxing atmosphere.
Is the wine train worth it?
I think it depends on which tour/dining experience you choose. As I mentioned this above, if you’re looking for a full day tour, I’d recommend the Legacy Tour or the Estate Tour. I LOVED Castello Di Amorosa, but I just can’t justify paying around $350 per person to go there when you can go there for a tasting on your own and have an incredible time!
I will say, though, the Legacy Tour was worth it. We got to try out different wineries that we’d never heard of, we had a delicious meal, and we got to ride on the historic railroad. Best of all – we could drink as much wine as we wanted, because we didn’t have to worry about transportation between wineries!
As for the dining experiences, I feel like that’s a personal decision. Both the lunch and dinner options make for one expensive meal, but it’s the experience that can make it worth it for some people.
I hope this article was helpful for you and I’d love to know if you’ve been on the Napa Valley Wine Train, or if you’re planning to go. It was such a memorable experience for us and I know it will be for you, too!