Central Coast Railroad Festival Wine Rail Excursions
The late afternoon sun slanted through the windows of the northbound Coast Starlight as she slipped silently out of the station at San Luis Obispo. She drifted slowly by the neighborhood backyards located along the tracks. Just before the rail crossing at the Cal-Poly campus the engineer blew the horn. Our group, traveling with the Central Coast Railroad Festival on this Wine Rail Excursion, was resting comfortably in the observation car, sipping wine, and sharing our feelings about the day’s outing.
Train trips, no matter how short, always seem to attract an audience and the folks affiliated with the Central Coast Railroad Festival knew that pairing a ride with stops at area wineries would most likely be a winner. These excursions, held on the second Sunday of every month, feature a ride up or down the Cuesta Grade between Paso Robles and San Luis Obispo. Complimentary wine tasting is offered at rail related wineries such as D’Anbino Vineyards & Cellars and Pomar Junction Vineyard & Winery in Templeton.
The trips came about when rail enthusiasts put on the first Central Coast Railroad Festival in 2009. Events occurred around the county but especially at the site of what is becoming the San Luis Obispo Railroad Museum. A rail excursion was held that day starting from the museum utilizing a ride on Amtrak’s Coast Starlight bringing people over the Cuesta Grade and ending at the Paso Robles train station. Then the idea to do monthly excursions and pair them with wine tasting was born.
Our excursion started at noon when everyone gathered at the D’Anbino tasting room at the historic train depot in Paso Robles. Twenty-four people who had come from all over California were joined together to taste wine and revel in the romance of the rails. Trains pass directly behind the tasting room so folks stopping here always get treated to the rumble of the train engine.
D’Anbino is a family winery and while most of the family members reside in Southern California, they originally came from New Jersey and are professional musicians. Being of Italian ancestry, the two families involved were not novices to winemaking, so it was natural for them to start a winery after emigrating out west. They produce small lots of hand-crafted wines out of their SIP certified vineyards.
The excursion group enjoyed the ambiance of the tasting room that is complete with a professional bandstand and an assortment of musical memorabilia on the walls. Live music occurs on weekends and once or twice a year the Family Band consisting of members from the D’Andrea and Rubino families do special performances.
We sipped Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, and Rose, tasted their unique wine jellies, and nibbled on tasty appetizers while we waited for everyone to assemble and for the bus to take us to Pomar Junction Winery next.
At Pomar Junction, our group assembled at the picnic tables under the oak trees next to the rolling stock that sits on tracks set next to rows and rows of vines. Here we enjoyed a picnic lunch while tasting all the varietals produced at the winery and hearing the history of this SIP certified establishment. All too soon it was time to board the bus for the ride south to the train station at San Luis Obispo in time to board the northbound Coast Starlight.
After leaving the train station the train travels through the back end of Cal-Poly University and you see views that you would otherwise never get to see. One of the most interesting is to see the back end of the California Mens Colony. Then the train bends around a 180 degree turn and folks at the back end of the train can see the engine. Somewhere around here we cross over the high Stenner Creek Bridge, but we can’t see it because we are on top of it. We go through five tunnels, some longer than others and have to marvel at what it must have been like to carve these out of the mountainsides.
It’s a totally different perspective looking out of the train windows while riding over the Cuesta Grade than it is from a car on the 101 Freeway. For one thing, you are much higher in elevation. The cars racing up and down the grade on the freeway appear small and you wonder if they notice this train snaking along the edge of the ridge, climbing up and over.
Finally we are in North County and we slide by the little town of Santa Margarita and continue on past fields with cows and horses. Soon the engineer announces our arrival at the Paso Robles train station and our wine excursion is over.
The Central Coast Railroad Festival also offers special excursions and private excursions can be arranged. From April through October the organization offers a special excursion via the Coast Starlight to Paso Robles and then bus transport to Pomar Junction’s Train Wreck Fridays where you can enjoy wine and food while listening to live music.
For information on wine train excursions, visit ccrrf.com or call 805-773-4173.
— Ruth Ann Angus