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Fall in Napa: Off-Season Travel

It’s leaf peeping season and while there are many ways and destinations where you can see fall foliage, seeing Napa’s fall colors on board of the historic Napa Valley Wine Train was an incredibly unique experience.

The train got back on-track in May 2021 after 15 months of not running during the COVID-19 pandemic. I took part in the three-hour late time lunch ride, the “Gourmet Express,” which can cost up to $345 a person, depending on the availability. The train’s capacity is 300 people, but at this time, it was at about 100 guests and masks were worn at all times unless guests were eating or drinking.

As soon as I stepped foot on this train, the rich history was immediately felt. The majority of the cars on the Napa Valley Wine Train were built in 1915 by the Pullman Standard Company. They were built as first class coaches for the Northern Pacific Railway for use on its premiere trains, the North Coast Limited and the Northern Pacific Atlantic Express. Currently owned in partnership between Nobel House Hotels & Resorts and Brooks Street, the train both owns and operates its tracks — which allows it to run without any delay as its the only one allowed to use these train tracks.

Inside of the train, there are painting replicas by Constantin Andrieu, also known as Nepo. Born in Paris, he spent most of his life painting in Africa, Greece and Morocco and his work made it to the Napa Valley Wine Train because he’s the father-in-law of Vincent Dedomenico, whose father Vince Dedomenico founded the train. And here’s a fun fact: Vince is also known for being one of the inventors of Rice-A-Roni.

But there’s no Rice-A-Roni on this train. Champagne greeted me as I was seated on a velvet chair looking out the window with a charcuterie board. Wine and cocktail options are also available at an additional cost but sipping a wine flight while passing the vineyards felt like the appropriate choice. In the fall, the colors from the vineyards’ leaves and trees are very vibrant. Yellow, red, orange and green colors make the season come to life while looking out the window. There’s also an outside area to take photos from if you’re worried about the window glare, and the vantage point will make it seem like you went to the vineyard — even though the train doesn’t stop and let you off at one.

I admit that I could have easily stayed on this train all day as the meal was a sit-down cabin experience with gourmet options including pumpkin soup to start and an option of beef tenderloin, salmon or gnocchi with mushrooms. The dessert options were a triple chocolate cake or a crème brulée to top it off.

Before I knew it, I was back at the train’s station at 2:30 p.m. and ready to explore more of what Napa had to offer. One of the hotels that is located conveniently close to the Nappy Valley Wine Train is the Meritage Resort and Spa. Without a car, an Uber or Lyft is a 4.5 mile ride to it.

Dubbed a “wine resort,” the Meritage’s buildings are aptly named after types of wines too. I stayed in the “Merlot” part of the resort and was able to see where its Merlot comes from. I could see the vineyard from my balcony, which is an estate for Trinitas Cellars. In fact, this spring, 9,212 new vines were replanted across its 6.5 acres. Much of the vineyard was replanted with Cabernet Sauvignon. And new rows of Petit Verdot, Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Malbec were also added.

A trail leads up stairs and through the vineyard pathways. You may frolick through the vineyard and also see a garden with 100 vegetable varieties, a hen house and wild turkeys crossing. The farm fresh produce is supplied to the resort for guests, and so you can taste what grows here in multiple ways. If you’re looking to go here in 2022, there will be a new “Dining in the Vineyard Experience.”

If you have a limited time to visit Napa, it may feel overwhelming as there are 475 physical wineries. Since I went in the fall, I didn’t see the picturesque grapes on the vines as they are harvested, crushed and fermented during this time of year. But it wasn’t crowded, and the fall colors somehow made the vineyards feel even more alive. The replantation I saw was done for quality improvement and production efficiency, but seeing grapevines in these forms made me feel hope because growth will happen again with seasonal change and time.

As we’re still in a pandemic and adapting to new ways of living, it was a great reminder that being “replanted” or shifting the environment we are used to can lead to an even better harvest or future.


Editor’s Note:

If you missed the fall season, the Meritage Resort and Spa is having public events for the holidays. On November 26th, there will be a tree lighting ceremony with holiday carolers, an Artisan Market and Santa Claus. The holidays carolers will continue to perform on weekends and Santa will have visits and reading time with children on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays starting at 2 p.m. through December 19th.