Big Fun on the Big Gay Wine Train
My girlfriend leads they way with her karaoke rendition of "Copacabana" in the lounge car. No, this isn't some post late-night snack dream sequence, but the real deal as we revel in laughter and wine on board Big Gay Wine Train.
An after dinner crowd gathers around the piano breaking out into their own favorite songs in a lounge car sing-a-long and chatting with each other about dinner and the four unique wines paired with the gourmet meal designed just for the guests.
This isn't our first time on the wine train, but it is our first time with a bunch of gays... and it makes for a much livelier experience.
Vintage Wines and New Friends
Destined to be a great evening, the dressy affair (although not stuffy or formal) was sold out two months in advance. Gay and lesbian oenophiles of all ages have taken over all nine cars along with a few straight friends on the Napa Valley Wine Train to enjoy a four course gourmet dinner and sample four different wineries.
The featured gay and lesbian winemakers and winery owners this year are legendary Margaret Davenport of Windsor Oaks Vineyards, Scott Anderson of J Vineyards and Winery, Brad Beard of Mercury Wine, and Tim Porter of Porter Family Vineyards.
The bacchanalian affair began at 5 p.m. with a sparkling wine cocktail reception courtesy of J Vineyards and Winery at the Napa Valley Wine Train station before boarding the train. By the time we arrive on board, the sun is just beginning to set and have time to take in the glorious sunset, admiring the vineyards and chateaus as night takes over.
The menu for the evening has been designed and prepared en route by wine train Chef Kelly Macdonald and his sous chefs as the train rolls down the tracks between Napa and St. Helena, Calif.
My girlfriend and I become quick friends with the other guests on the periphery of our romantic table for two and we all end up bantering about the wine selections and each tantalizing dish that comes out of the kitchen.
The feast kicks off with grilled octopus and crab butter lettuce tacos with red peppers and lemon pepper aioli, paired with J Pinot Gris California 2011. We then move on to roasted local lamb and duck Napolean with mustard cabbage and endive slaw paired with Windsor Oaks Pinot Noir 4-Dijon Clone from the Russian River Valley 2008, followed by a pan seared sturgeon on savory pot de crème with pernod and fennel paired with Mercury Geyserville "The Messenger" cabernet blend Alexander Valley 2008.
For a final course we are served a Petaluma cheese plate with arugula-onion tartine and fig jam paired with Porter Family Vineyards Syrah Napa Valley 2008. And just in case we aren’t satiated enough, a final hurrah arrives - bourbon espresso sin cake with house made caramel.
As each delicious course arrives, guests have the opportunity to sit and talk with the winemakers and wine owners as they weave their way throughout guests’ tables during service.
The Celebration Continues
This is the third year of the annual Big Gay Wine Train produced by gay wine country residents Gary Saperstein and Mark Vogler, wine country hosts and producers of Out in the Vineyard, the LGBT California wine country event and travel organization. Saperstein is also the president of the board of the Sonoma Valley Visitors Bureau.
Napa residents Angie Hutchinson and Tyler Mead are excited to be on the Big Gay Wine Train as it rolls behind their house. In spite of having the train in their backyard, the couple has never been on the wine train before.
The wine train and being with other LGBT people enticed lesbian couple Erin and Kerri Carder-McCoy to participate. They drove up from the Peninsula for a romantic evening filled with fun.
We deboard the train and follow the crowd to the Westin Verasa Napa, the official host hotel for the Big Gay Wine Train, for the after party. We mingle with other passengers at the bar before wandering out to the patio and hanging out with Peter Ruiz and his partner of three years, Mark Gregson.
"I wasn’t sure what to expect," says Ruiz, a Sonoma native who currently lives in San Francisco with Gregson. The couple dined in the observation car for their first Big Gay Wine Train adventure. "They made it a very welcoming and inclusive environment. I really enjoyed it."
Gregson agrees, adding that it "exceeded my expectations" and it was "something that was more interesting to me than just drinking."
He only wished that there was another Big Gay Wine Train event earlier in the day so people could enjoy the scenery more.
Sitting around the patio enjoying the clear crisp cool evening, more wine and chatting with my girlfriend and me, they agree they would not only participate in the Big Gay Wine Train again, but they also would invite their friends next time.
I couldn’t agree more.
Out in the Vineyards next event is Gay Wine Weekend June 14 - 16.
Stay an Extra Night
Consider extending your stay and exploring more of Napa Valley. The Chanric Inn recently underwent a 3-month remodel and is an ideal LGBT-friendly luxury bed and breakfast experience.
Situated in Calistoga at the heart of Napa, Alexander, Sonoma Valley, The Chanric will welcome you with sparkling wine, homemade breakfasts, and a serene swimming pool and whirlpool.
Other amenities include bath amenities by Thierry Mugler, a panoramic porch for taking in the beautiful sunset (or sunrise if you can manage to roll out of bed) and personalized concierge services for planning your vineyard visits.
Packages are available and consider bringing your dog - the Chanric is pet-friendly!
Additional contributions to this story by EDGE travel editor Matthew Wexler