Currently there is a controversy swirling around the Napa Valley Wine Train that has piqued my
interest. A book club made up of mostly African-American women, including an 83 year-old grandmother, was escorted from the train after a noise complaint was made against them. Wine Train officials say that passengers are removed once a month on average, however the group felt singled out because of their race. Members took to social media to relay the events, and since then, the story has
been shared by millions more under the hashtag #laughingwhileblack.
Not long before this incident occurred, I rode the Wine Train. Before I go any further, I should disclose that I was a guest of Napa Valley Wine Train*. However, that fact has not colored my opinion.
The Wine Train transports its passengers through 18-miles of the most scenic landscape of Napa Valley in beautifully restored antique railcars with names such as Chardonnay, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and a two-story domed railcar called Champagne. There are also big, picture windows throughout the train that enable you to take in Napa Valley’s magnificent landscape.
I was seated in the Le Petite Gourmet dining car, where, as part of the Ambassador Winery Tour I enjoyed a gourmet 3-course meal. The atmosphere was elegant, yet relaxed in the full dining car. Not library quiet, but there was certainly an implied level of sound, similar to what you would expect to find in an upscale restaurant.
In between courses, I went to some of the other cars to have a look. The Wine Train has several different cars, as I mentioned, and several different tour options, each with its own unique vibe.
The Silverado car, for example offers a more laid-back experience, with the option of a more casual meal of bbq and steak, and a rustic, Hollywood Western theme. The noise decibel in the Silverado was slightly higher, but with a younger demographic, including a number of families with children, that was to be expected. There is also a dessert car and several lounge cars serving wine and cheese as opposed to a multi-course meal, which also had a more casual atmosphere.
I’ve written all that to convey that my experience on the Wine Train was nothing but positive. While I should note that I was on my own, thus the volume of any #laughingwhileblack on my part was a fraction of that of the book group. However, I was very aware of my surroundings and from observing the environment on the train, at least at the time I rode it, and taking cues from that, I know that socializing above a certain volume would not have been appropriate.
The Wine Train issued an apology in which it accepted “full responsibility for our failures and for the chain of events that led to this regrettable treatment of our guests.” As a result of the incident, the Wine Train has received a flood of negative comments and reviews on its social media and on sites such as Yelp, many calling for a boycott of the train, which considering most of those giving
negative reviews is deplorable.
As a black woman who has taken the journey on the Wine Train, even doing a bit of laughing while black, who empathizes with the women who were removed from the train and feels that the situation could have been handled differently, but is satisfied with the apology and remedy offered to the offended party by the Wine Train, I say ride the rails to Napa on the Wine Train. I know I would do it again without hesitation.
*I was provided with a complimentary Ambassador Winery Tour on the Napa Valley Wine Train. I was not asked to express any particular point of view, and as always, all thoughts and opinions are my own.
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