Napa Vly Wine Train...

John Barnhill Oct 26, 2007

  1. John Barnhill

    John Barnhill TrainBoard Member

    The future of rail in Napa

    Sunday, October 21, 2007
    The passing of Vincent DeDomenico, founder of the Napa Valley Wine Train, prompted many local leaders to look back in time to the days when DeDomenico came to the valley, when downtown Napa was moribund, rail travel seemed archaic and the impact of tourists on the local economy was less obvious.

    But those who worked with DeDomenico also noted that he had a vision of the Wine Train as something more than a wine-and-dine attraction for visitors that it is today. He saw it as, someday, representing a viable revival of rail as a legitimate mode of travel for residents and visitors to the Napa Valley.
    These days, more and more people are animated about the possibilities of rail travel here.

    Readers and commentators on our Web site,, propose it as a key method for reducing our dependency on the auto.

    Last week, before the Register editorial board, Napa County Supervisor Diane Dillon said the county must consider rail as a viable option 20 or 30 years from now, when the population of the county – and pressure on key roads – will likely be larger.

    Napa County Transportation and Planning Agency officials consider a study of rail a necessary component of a long-term transportation planning strategy.

    Rail systems, like other major users of energy, have experimented with alternative, cleaner-running fuels.

    People see the obvious benefits of a rail system that links cities in Napa to the Vallejo Ferry terminal, the BART system or even nearby cities like Fairfield or Vacaville. American Canyon, the county’s fastest-growing city, is home to thousands of commuters who head out each day to the region’s major employment hubs. Proponents of the Napa Pipe residential plan see both rail and water travel as increasingly viable, should that project – which fronts both the old Southern Pacific train tracks and the Napa River -- be built in anything resembling its current form.

    Train tracks arc across the Carneros region from the Brazos Bridge west, potentially linking the East Bay to Marin and Sonoma counties.

    Yet through all these visions, it is very hard to see the bottom line.

    Would there be enough use of a rail line to financially support daily commuter travel north of the city of Napa? Would the Upvalley resistance that met DeDomenico be repeated 20 or 30 years later, and with different players at the table? Would commuter trains rumbling over Central Avenue in Napa and alongside Highway 29 Upvalley be safe for residents? How much would it cost to prepare the railroad for heavy, modern use?

    We need answers to these questions before there is any serious discussion of a rail revival here. With fuel at $3 a gallon, a strengthening movement to reduce traffic congestion, questions about reliance on foreign energy sources and more, it is time to start talking.
  2. BoxcabE50

    BoxcabE50 HOn30 & N Scales Staff Member TrainBoard Supporter

    I'd heard of his passing on. Couldn't help but to wonder what will become of his rail operations. I know many area residents have complained, and fought him. Could it be that a few are starting to see the light?

    Boxcab E50
  3. OC Engineer JD

    OC Engineer JD Staff Member TrainBoard Supporter

    He was also the founder of Rice a Roni, buying the NVWT after selling that company.
  4. John Barnhill

    John Barnhill TrainBoard Member


    Wine Train moves forward

    The Napa Valley Wine Train family members and staff have been reorganizing following the loss of the Wine Train's founder, Vincent DeDomenico, in late October 2007, and the more recent loss of his wife, Mildred, in November.
    The family and staff are committed to DeDomenico's vision for the Napa Valley Railroad and the Napa Valley. In addition to the world famous gourmet dining excursion for which the Napa Valley Wine Train is renowned, DeDomenico envisioned regular passenger service and limited freight service in the valley.

    The Napa Valley Wine Train Board of Directors has elected DeDomenico's son-in-law, Greg McManus, as Chief Executive Officer and President, and son-in-law Dale Bleecher as Chairman of the Board. His daughters, Vicki DeDomenico McManus and Marla DeDomenico Bleecher, will serve on the Board of Directors.

    Greg McManus retired from DeDomenico's previous business, Golden Grain Macaroni Company, in 1986 as Vice President of Engineering. Since then, McManus has honed his business skills by maintaining investments in real estate, farming, restaurants, music production, and most recently, on-line consumer wine sales. Additionally he has worked for a variety of volunteer organizations designing and engineering solutions for aeronautical, land management, flood control, energy, wastewater and water conservation projects.

    Dale Bleecher is co-owner with his wife, Marla, of Jericho Canyon Vineyard and Winery in Calistoga, California. Prior to moving to Calistoga in 1989, Bleecher worked in the financial services industry, most recently with Merrill Lynch in San Mateo.

    Vincent DeDomenico Jr., will continue as Vice President of Operations. "Business relationships and activities will continue as before, with more emphasis on development," said DeDomenico, who has been active on a daily basis in all phases of the Napa Valley Railroad's operations since 1994.
  5. OC Engineer JD

    OC Engineer JD Staff Member TrainBoard Supporter

    Great news!:thumbs_up:
  6. BoxcabE50

    BoxcabE50 HOn30 & N Scales Staff Member TrainBoard Supporter

    Sure reads like good news. Let's hope so.

    Boxcab E50
  7. John Barnhill

    John Barnhill TrainBoard Member

    more news...

    Staying on Track

    New leader keeps Wine Train chugging along
    Sunday, March 30, 2008
    Register Staff Writer

    Gregory McManus, the new man in charge at Napa Valley Wine Train, was never a train buff like his father-in-law, Vince DeDomenico.

    While DeDomenico spent the final two decades of his life operating a luxury dining trail, McManus lived a leisurely life in Hawaii, pursuing personal interests in animal rescue and alternative energy and providing mercy flights to people needing medical treatment.

    All that changed following the unexpected death in October of DeDomenico, 92, then the passing in November of his wife Mildred, 87.

    These deaths stunned the family. There was no succession plan for what would happen to Wine Train, which DeDomenico had presided over with founder’s ferocity.
    When the DeDomenicos’ four children came together to improvise new management, they selected McManus, who is married to Vincent and Mildred’s daughter Vicki, to be Wine Train’s CEO and president. Vincent DeDomenico Jr. remained as operations director.

    “There was a lot of uncertainty about the future,” McManus said. “Our first goal was to ensure people that we intended to maintain Vince’s vision.”

    Rumors swirled that Wine Train was for sale, but that was never the case, McManus said. “I haven’t talked to anyone. I’m just focusing on the business.”

    McManus is a lanky 52-year-old who jogs home at the end of his work day to the DeDomenico home on Monticello Road. He describes himself as a technical guy who loves to make things work. Now he has a railroad to tinker with.

    What’s next?

    How committed is he to perpetuating Wine Train? Enough so that he puts in 80-hour weeks. On Sundays, his day of rest, he and his wife walk segments of track so he can know the line intimately. Starting at Streblow Drive in south Napa, they’ve made it to Rutherford, so far.

    The DeDomenico heirs are working on a plan to increase ridership on the gourmet dining train that makes leisurely three-hour runs between Napa and St. Helena for lunch and dinner.

    Since taking over as CEO in early January, McManus also has begun expanding hours at the train station’s wine shop and remaking Wine Train’s Web site to sell more wine. He is looking at offering cooking classes and corporate events at the train’s commissary.

    Acting on his passion for energy conservation, McManus replaced all the lighting at the Wine Train station on McKinstry Street earlier this month with a system that uses 50 percent less power.

    The message to Wine Train’s 120 employees and the Napa public is this: Wine Train is going to be around for a while, he said.

    McManus said he was as close to DeDomenico as anyone who was not his child could be. While dating Vicki, he began working for DeDomenico at age 18, at the Golden Grain pasta plant in San Leandro.

    “He started me out in the maintenance shop sweeping the floor,” said McManus, who rose to the position of vice president of engineering before the DeDomenicos sold their pasta-candy conglomerate to Quaker Oats in 1986. “Vince was an amazing mentor,” he said.

    In 1989, at age 75, DeDomenico launched Wine Train amid opposition, especially from Upvalley residents who worried that a dining train would Disneyfy the Napa Valley.

    During its peak years, 2000-2001, Wine Train carried as many as 120,000 riders per year. More recently the annual totals have been closer to 100,000, McManus said.

    “It pays its way,” McManus said of Wine Train’s financial performance. By making Wine Train not as dependent on the cyclical tourist market, it can do better, he said.

    Along the river

    McManus took the helm at a crunch time for Wine Train and the Napa River flood control project. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers intends to award a contract worth between $39 million and $45 million later this year to elevate Wine Train tracks in central Napa and build two railroad bridges. The current bridge and track are a flood impediment.

    Before signing off on the plan, McManus had to absorb reams of technical data about how this relocation, which could take three or more years to accomplish, will affect his daily train operation.

    Wine Train is close to giving the corps’ plan its blessing, said McManus, who said his technical background helped him understand federal blue prints.

    Heather Stanton, the local flood project manager, said McManus took charge surprisingly fast. “He’s a very impressive person. Obviously a quick study,” she said. “It didn’t take him any time at all to get up to speed.”

    She called McManus a “down-to-earth guy, very easy to work with, very clear, no hidden agendas.”

    McManus bristles at Wine Train critics who say public funds should not be spent to keep a tourist railroad in business. “One of the things that does bother me is the perception this work is being done for Wine Train. It’s not. The work is being done for the transportation corridor.”

    “Some day people will say that money was spent well. Right now they don’t see it, but when gas is $10 a gallon ...” That’s when Wine Train tracks could support commuter trains, he said.

    Federal law classifies the Wine Train as a public utility that must be made whole by flood control, Stanton said. Even if Wine Train ceased to operate someday, the flood-proofed right of way could be used by another railroad, she said.

    Total flood control costs related to Wine Train are estimated to be between $55 million and $61 million, depending on bids this summer for the work downtown, Stanton said.

    Wine Train constitutes between 15 and 17 percent of the flood project’s estimated $360 million cost, she said. Some $16 million spent to date was used for a new commissary, a parking lot on McKinstry and track relocation in south Napa, she said.

    Looking to the future, McManus said that Vince and Mildred’s four children — Michael DeDomenico, Vicki McManus, Marla Bleecher and Vincent Jr. — and their families would continue to make major business decisions.

    “Basically we reach consensus very quickly. We’re all on the same page,” he said. Even as CEO, his role is more that of “facilitator,” he said.

    McManus, who still has his home in Hawaii, doesn’t know if he will stay in Napa forever. “We are committed to staying here until we have things on track,” he said.

    In the meantime, there is much to do, McManus said. The quality of the Wine Train experience has to be promoted. He’s toying with a new slogan. “I’m thinking, ‘Ride the Wine Train again for the first time,’” he said.
  8. JCater

    JCater TrainBoard Member

    It sounds like they made a good choice for the new CEO. Wish I could get out there to ride it!
  9. BoxcabE50

    BoxcabE50 HOn30 & N Scales Staff Member TrainBoard Supporter

    A positive report. Sounds good for the future.

    Boxcab E50

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