Out There :: Napa Valley R&R
Out There loves trains, and Out There loves wine. So when we were invited to take a trip on the Napa Valley Wine Train, "All aboard!" was pretty much a no-brainer. The Wine Train is an antique train that takes a 25-mile route through the Valley, from Napa to St. Helena and back. It boasts two engines, three kitchens, and a diverse collection of early-20th century railcars. We had a luscious lunch and wine onboard, then disembarked for a tour of the Grgich Hills Estate Winery.
Founder Milijenko "Mike " Grgich was the winemaker who created the 1973 Chateau Montelena Chardonnay that bested France’s White Burgundies at the historic 1976 Paris Tasting that put California wines on the map. His winery is big on natural grape-growing and sustainability. We toured the facilities, which was in the throes of fall harvest, then repaired to the VIP tasting room to sample the wares.
Then we were back on the rails for dessert, the train’s return trip to Napa, and more fruit of the grape. We loved walking the length of the train and scoping out the various examples of Pullman car design. We loved the ever-changing view of the beautiful Valley. And mostly we loved our reason for being there: a relaxing, restorative sojourn out of the city with our main man Pepi .
Each March the Napa Valley Wine Train becomes the Big Gay Train, an LGBT winemakers’ dinner on board. This special event, hosted by Out in the Vineyard, includes a multiple-course meal designed to pair with wines from prominent LGBT winemakers in Wine Country. The winemakers join guests on board to socialize and answer questions. The Big Gay Train is a seated-with-others event, which helps with meeting new people and mingling. We hear it’s fun and popular, and sells out every time. Go to winetrain.com/big-gay-train.
That night, chef Ken Frank, owner of La Toque, the Michelin-starred restaurant in the Westin Verasa Napa hotel, invited us to sample the chef’s table menu. The offerings turned out to be spectacular: rosti potato with California white sturgeon caviar, served with Verve Cliquot; big eye tuna, kampachi, spot prawn and ankimo, paired with sake; sablefish and matsuake in seafood broth, with Vouvray; sweet corn with Maine lobster, chanterelles and Australian black winter truffle, with Ramey Chardonnay; rabbit ballotine with beans and morels, paired with Premier Cru "Les Epenottes"; beef tenderloin with bone marrow and red wine sauce, avec cabernet sauvignon; ending with a cheese plate, salted caramel chocolate pot de creme, and figs with brown sugar creme fraiche sherbet.
This sounds like a boatload of food, but the courses were portioned so that we never felt overfed. The wine pairings were skillfully chosen and presented by sommelier Richard Matuszczak so that there was always a surprising but well-coordinated sip to follow up a bite. The seasonal, fresh produce and organic meats sourced from local farmers and purveyors always hit their mark. La Toque is an elegant destination for dining in Napa town.
The elegant Churchill Manor Bed and Breakfast in the town of Napa.
We stayed at the equally elegant Churchill Manor Bed and Breakfast in a quiet residential district of Napa. So we were treated to not only a delicious breakfast, but baked cookies in the afternoon, and evening wines and appetizers. Pepi and OT lazed happily on the mansion’s wrap-around veranda, enjoying wine and each other’s company. Pepi rolled around on the perfectly manicured lawn like a puppy cocker spaniel, then set up the house croquet set and knocked balls around solo when OT couldn’t be bothered.