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All Aboard…The Wine Train

All Aboard…The Wine Train

“Travel through the lush Napa Valley countryside and be transported back in time. Back to the romance and luxury of the golden age of train travel of the early 1900s, when guests explored the trains beyond their private quarters.” – The Wine Train

Elegance on the rails is the hallmark of The Napa Wine Train.

Winding past lofty green hills in the Northern California countryside, I sipped sparkling wine while my friend, Alison, nibbled on glazed fillet of salmon in the plush seats of the spacious 1915 re-modeled train car.

Guests aboard the Napa Wine Train journey through 18 miles of scenic vineyards and hills and can choose between three different dining packages. With three onboard kitchens and celebrated chefs, the Napa Valley Wine Train is a superb rolling restaurant.

We chose The Estate Tour, a spectacular six-hour tour of three leading wineries and a 4-course meal.

The first stop was Domaine Chandon, a pioneer of California sparkling wine, founded in 1973 by Champagne house Moët & Chandon.  The winery boasts wonderful architecture and lush landscape. While causally touring the winery, guests are treated to several varieties of sparking wine.

The second stop was HALL St. Helena, perhaps the most ultra-modern winery in Napa Valley. Lifelong art collectors Craig and Kathryn Hall invite guests to enjoy expressive art and world-class wines. The 150-year- old historic vineyard features an exciting collection of more than 35 works by internationally acclaimed artists.

The last stop was, Inglenook, a stately château restored to its heritage by Hollywood director Francis Ford Coppola and his wife Eleanor. The Coppolas purchased the last of the Inglenook land parcels in 1995 with profits from Bram Stoker’s Dracula, including the historic Chateau.  In 2011, Francis and Eleanor Coppola acquired the iconic Inglenook trademark and announced the estate would once again be known by its historical name, Inglenook. The Coppolas also produce  a tasty variety of wines under the Coppola label.

If you’re a history buff or a fan of Coppola’s movies – such as The Godfather – this tour is a must. Coppola is best known as the six-time Oscar-winning director, writer, and producer of such epic films as the Godfather  trilogy and Apocalypse Now.   The winery tour also includes Don Corleone’s desk from The Godfather films.

Throughout the journey on Wine Train, we were treated to gourmet meals such as asparagus bisque, citrus braised pork belly, sliced beef tenderloin and roasted chicken. Wine Train prices ranges from $149 per person for 90-minute tours. For six-hour tours featuring three-wineries, rates start at $332 per person. (It’s worth every cent!)

For those who may be concerned about the highly publicized racial discrimination incident involving a group of African-American women who were kicked off the Wine Train in 2015, their treatment was unacceptable. The women reportedly settled an $11 million racial discrimination suit for an undisclosed amount.

But three years later, we found the Wine Train experience to be enjoyable, entertaining, educational and where diversity appears to be embraced.

Wine train employees were welcoming, gracious, courteous – and funny. (One waitress told a series of hilarious family friendly jokes!)  Guests were also kind, sociable and eager to interact. We met a wonderful couple from Scotland and we also celebrated a birthday and a wedding anniversary with couples from Texas, Florida and Oklahoma.

“The trip exceeded expectations,” Alison said. “The beautifully restored trains, perfectly proportioned food, scenic vistas, great wine and service combined to create a stunning experience.”

“The experience can be as intimate as desired but is also conducive to meeting new people given the small group size,” she said. The selections of vineyards was fantastic, juxtaposing the elegant old with the tech forward new in wine making. It was obvious that a lot of thought and planning went into the vineyards that were chosen as well as the wines that we sampled. This is a wonderful experience for everyone from couples to groups and a great way to spend an afternoon.”

TIPS: Try Romance on the Rails starting at $244 per person, which includes a multiple-course dinner, a welcome glass of sparkling wine, two glasses of a private label wine, and a 3-hour ride in the Vista Dome with panoramic views. The train also offers a great Murder Mystery ride starting at $195 per person.

WHAT TO DO IN NAPA:

Visit Brown Estate Vineyards — the first and only Black-owned estate winery in California’s Napa Valley, and best known as one of the region’s most well-regarded zinfandel wines.

We enjoyed visiting the Brown Tasting Room and sipping Zinfandel in downtown Napa – but you should also visit the 450-acre vineyard and drive through the beautiful Napa landscape.

Here’s the way the family explains their successful business:

We established the Brown Estate label officially in 1996 when we harvested what would become our first bottling of Brown Zin. In January 2000 we debuted our first three vintages at the annual ZAP (Zinfandel Advocates & Producers) Grand Tasting in San Francisco. Fast forward to September 2016… when we bottled our 20th vintage!

In the meantime our business has grown, slowly but surely, as our brand has gained broader and broader exposure to an extraordinarily diverse audience thanks primarily to word of mouth. To make our wines and hospitality experience more accessible, in April 2017 we opened our Brown Downtown tasting room on the re-emerging First Street corridor in the heart of downtown Napa.

WHERE TO STAY:

There are many nice hotels in Napa but check out the River Terrace Inn, a luxury Napa Valley hotel that offers charm and elegance.

“The perfect balance of Wine Country serenity and urban hospitality. Discover the Wine Country in Napa Valley, a peaceful sanctuary nestled among lush, rolling hills, a sea of vivid wildflowers, and radiant vineyards. Set in the heart of the Napa Valley Wine Country, River Terrace Inn features luxurious accommodations, personalized services and a pristine riverfront setting. River Terrace Inn is an enchanting blend of modern elegance, laid-back California charm and the energy of downtown Napa.”

The inn is a wonderful retreat and a short walk to The Wine Train. The food is excellent and there is live music in the evenings. If you chose to sit outside for dinner, there are plenty fireplaces to keep guests warm. The rooms are spacious, cozy and well-appointed. Rates start at $299 per night. (The river view rooms are especially nice.)

 “These luxurious accommodations highlight the Inn’s pristine riverfront setting. Enjoy premier lifestyle amenities such as complimentary high-speed internet access and Wi-Fi, designer bath products, Napa Dream Bedding with pillow-top mattresses and deluxe bedding, plush terry cloth towels.” 

What I found particularly appealing was the professionalism and kindness of the staff. From check in to check out, members of the River Terrace Inn were pleasant, friendly and accommodating. The inn offers excellent service.

And don’t miss the inn’s ALBA restaurant for a wonderful dinner. (Order the tuna tacos, crab cake sliders and short ribs!)

“Illuminate your senses as Napa debuts “high-country” cuisine at all new ALBA restaurant. Open since June 2017 inside the River Terrace Inn, ALBA’s award-winning Executive Chef Nicole Heaney pays homage to local foodways, devoting the menu to the fine combination of great mixology, good times and superior cooking.”

If you’re looking for lodging in Napa, consider The River Terrace Inn. You’ll be glad you booked it.

PHOTOS: Napa Valley Wine Train, Micheal Cottman

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Little Known Black History Fact: Elbert Williams

Little Known Black History Fact: Elbert Williams

The names of James Chaney and Medgar Evers are well-known in civil rights lore as both men were killed while fighting for voter equality in the South. Elbert Williams does not enjoy the name recognition of the aforementioned but he too was murdered for the same reasons, and his murder case from 1940 was recently reopened.

Williams was born on October 15, 1908 in Haywood County, a rural area of Tennessee. He worked as a laundromat attendant in his hometown of Brownsville, later joining the NAACP along with his wife, establishing the first local chapter there.

In May 1940, a small group in Brownsville attempted to register to vote and were unceremoniously turned away. This set off a series of retaliatory actions by white mobs, including the kidnapping and torture of one man in June 1940 who was forced to give up the names of the town’s NAACP members and then told to flee town. Just days after the man was tortured, two members of the  mob, both police officers, and another man entered Williams’ home on June 20, 1940.

That night would be the last time the family would hear from Williams. Three days later, his bruised and swollen body was pulled from the Hatchie River. Despite Williams’ wife, Annie, identifying her husband’s body and noting two bullet holes in his chest, the cause of death was listed as unknown and the county essentially silenced the matter. NAACP Special Counsel Thurgood Marshall traveled to Brownsville himself, putting pressure on local authorities and the DOJ to investigate the murder.

Despite Marshall’s best efforts, he and the NAACP were unable to get the case reopened after the DOJ reversed a decision to bring the case before a grand jury by the United States Attorney in Memphis. In 2014, The Elbert Williams Memorial Committee was formed and on June 20, 2015, the 75th anniversary of Williams’ death, a historical marker in Brownsville was dedicated to the activist.

Jim Emison, a retired attorney, has been researching the Williams case. Coupled with the signing of the Cold Case Civil Rights bill from earlier this year and Emison’s tireless efforts, District Attorney Garry G. Brown has decided to reopen the matter. While the men connected to Williams’ death are assumed to be dead, the family is still seeking justice and closure.

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