Within the Napa Valley, Calistoga is the most convenient commute — only 30 minutes from Sonoma County Airport. Since Calistoga is at the top of the Napa Valley, it’s the best place to begin your wine country journey. But be warned; once you discover the wellness, wines and welcoming community of Calistoga, you won’t want to leave. You can spend a day riding through the Napa Valley, however, and this is where the Quattro Vino Tour comes in handy.
Whether, breakfast, lunch or dinner, the most memorable meals begin with bubbles. On the Napa Valley Wine Train’s smaller train on board the Quattro Vino Tour, the experience begins with a flute of Chandon Bubbles served mid-morning. Upon boarding the 6-plus hour train ride through the Napa Valley, within 10 minutes on the tracks, passengers delight in a cup of coffee served with breakfast bites of ciabatta topped with shaved pork, arugula pesto, caramelized onions, sliced egg and manchego cheese – one of three bites (Greek yogurt parfait, mixed berries and almond granola and a spoonful of steel cut oatmeal brûlee). The once industrial scenery morphs to a panoramic of seemingly endless vineyards built for our passenger’s aesthetic pleasure.
As 25 or so passengers ride past the famous Veterans home in Yountville, a tour guide offers information on a few landmarks, as well as tidbits relative to the agricultural fields of vineyards that begin with a single rose bush planted in front of each row (to gauge mildew warnings). The railway leads us to a view of stainless steel tanks outside the wine-making facility of Opus One, where tastings are priced at $75. Across the way, we stop at Robert Mondavi Winery and exit the train to follow a pathway from the tracks along the famous To Kalon vineyards to the grand entrance of this famous winery once owned by the late Robert and Margrit Mondavi, legends of the Napa Valley.
Like school children on a field trip, we trail to the regal barrel room where petit verdot-stained bellies of French oak barrels are lined in rows to match the vineyards outside. We eagerly accept two splashes of wine before marching back toward the train, with a pit stop at the gift shop where visitors flock to buy wines to ship home, as well as collect trinkets as gifts for self and others.
Seated back in the train car, our next bite of asparagus soup and salad of Bibb lettuce, blue cheese, fennel, with a tiny topping of apple crisp is crowned with white balsamic-Dijon vinaigrette and Parmesan crumbs. It’s nice to enjoy this small serving after a tasting, and nicer to dine among the sounds of upscale funk, courtesy of Quattro Vino.
Next stop is Charles Krug, where we stand stunned by the Big Red Barrel, not to mention the elegant wines and the room where a scene from “Walk in the Clouds” was once filmed. Our follow up culinary tasting is a choice of duck sausage (spicy) or halibut served with an outstanding white bean saffron ragout, the former best paired with a glass of chardonnay, pinot noir or merlot. This is our final bite before stopping at Merryvale Vineyards, the former Sunny St. Helena and the first winery open following the repeal of prohibition, thanks to the Mondavi’s. A taste of bubbly and a few splashes of still wines and we are back on the train, this time to V. Sattui Winery where we enjoy a taste of two wines, one being Madeira dessert wine, which pairs nicely with our train ride back to Napa, when sweets of cannoli, warm flour-less chocolate cake with brandied cherries, and cinnamon crusted tart au citron are served in small bites we happily devour. By now, passengers are feeling good, well fed and imbibed with standout wines and merrily making conversation with each other and the strangers they hadn’t yet met during a unique and cozy experience on the 25 miles of track of the Napa Valley Wine Train’s Quattro Vino Tour.