NAPA — The new owners of the Napa Valley Wine Train hope their new offering will appeal to Bay Area music fans looking for a unique performance opportunity.
Rock the Rails is a new series pairing intimate performances at Napa Valley wineries with upscale dining, wine and cocktails aboard its renovated trains. The first excursion in late August transported several hundred people to V. Sattui Winery to watch retro and lounge band Big Bad Voodoo Daddy.
Upcoming trips include Sheila E on Sept. 21 at Grgich Hills Estate and David Pack’s Legends Live on Oct. 5 at Charles Krug Winery, featuring David Pack, formerly of Ambrosia; Gary Wright and John Elefante, formerly of Kansas; Wally Palmar of The Romantics; Jim Peterik; and Dave Jenkins of Pablo Cruise.
“[We wanted] to be part of the dynamic music scene developing in the Napa Valley,” said Scott Goldie, a member of the Wine Train ownership group that includes California real estate investment firm Brooks Street and Noble House Hotels and Resorts. “The [Napa Valley Wine] Train’s goal is to become an important part of the history, wine, food, art and music culture of the Valley.”
Rock the Rails is much more than a concert series. The journey there is as important as the destination. Climbing onto the wood-paneled locomotive with polished brass and white tablecloth-draped tables for the first concert was like stepping back in time. Besides the classic dining car, there is a viewing car with large glass windows and a roomier bar car, with plush seats.
As the train began to move from its depot downtown, rocking back and forth, attendees had time to get to know the other passengers around them. A few minutes later, a complimentary taste of sparkling wine was served.
The wine menu featured dozens of popular favorites from local wineries. The dinner menu included tomato bisque and Sonoma greens salad, beef, brown-sugar-glazed pork tenderloin and lemon thyme roasted chicken. There are also packages that include only drinks and hors d’oeuvres. The waiters also took dessert orders, which were held for the speedier return voyage, along with a nightcap.
The ride to V. Sattui Winery took about an hour, but it never dragged. At one point, the Napa Valley Wine Train’s longtime chef came by to greet guests. Once the train arrived, there was a bit of a delay unloading, as one car was handled at a time. There would also be some confusion reloading at the end of the night. Guests were asked to return to their original seats, but many didn’t remember, and the presence of a second train wasn’t helping matters. Both were kinks that should be worked out by the September concert. The trip back was shorter because the train travelled at a faster speed.
Upon arrival, guests were escorted from the tracks, past the winery and to the vineyard, where the stage was erected. More wine was served (for separate purchase). Because there were only a few hundred in attendance, the views were good at all angles. Guests could sit at the front, dance in the aisles or watch from the back of one of several VIP areas. The concert went until 10 p.m., by which time the air was crisp.
Rock the Rails will continue next year, Goldie said, and success won’t be measured just by attendance at the concerts—they’re meant to be intimate, after all—but by spreading awareness of the Rail Arts District, a multi-group effort to beautify 2 miles of bike and rail corridor in Napa Valley. Part of the ticket sales will benefit the district.