Well, this was bound to happen, regardless of race, creed, or political party. The removal of Wine Train passengers brings a lot of issues to the forefront, from the side of someone on the other side of the bar.

Let me digress for a second… When I was working in tasting rooms, inevitably some group would come into the tasting room and be so self absorbed that they were literally out of control, as compared to the people who really just came to taste and learn about wine. The people around the swam of bees would stay a bit away, to make sure they didn’t get stung. It happens everyday in wine country, and maybe why Americans – in other countries – are considered to be lacking courtesy.

Honestly, I’ve been with a group of people – who hasn’t? – where we got a bit boisterous, and then decided to not care about anyone else around us, because we were having so much fun. (These moments produce great memories, for those who are having the fun.)


A whole new generation has moved in, as regards consumers.

There’s a recent movement to have one’s image taken with the “Welcome to Napa Valley” signs… on both ends of the valley. I’ve never seen anything like the droves that are now gathering. It’s like having one’s picture taken at the Eiffel Tower or the climbing of a Pyramid. It says you’ve been there and done that.

But, this past Sunday, something different was in the air… I saw the ultimate. One guy on the south end of Napa had climbed the sign (not easy to do), and had stuck his head through the bubble part of it and the banner above. What if he fell? (The Girl Scout Day Camp director, in my past life skill set, still asks those questions of safety.) Who’s going to pay that bill, besides the land owners? All of us, as health insurance cost continue to climb for those who can afford to pay, to cover those who can’t. We don’t consider that, when we’re hanging off signs not constructed to hold people, though. We just want to have fun.

So, there’s the guy, head through the sign, while the Napa Valley Wine Train is coming down the road, and little did I know, with a group of passengers noticeably out of control by those who were sharing the car they were in and not invited to their private party.

While some are screaming “race.” This isn’t a race issue, I can tell you that. The guy on the sign was not a person of color, he was a white guy. If the cops had seen him, he would have been told to “get down ASAP.”

[This image has come from the Napa Valley Wine Train Website.]

The Removal of Napa Wine Train passengers

While media are having a heyday with this story, because it’s salacious, it’s doing a disservice to the industry. Everyone is focusing on race instead of courtesy.

We (in the business) have to try to control the people we are serving who step over a line of consideration for the others around them, too. Someone on this train had had enough, but didn’t handle her communication well, so now she looks like a racist. That might have been far from her intent. She may have just wanted the joyous group to bring it down a notch. I don’t really know. I wasn’t there, But, as someone who puts on wine events, I know that there are always those who create situations, and they’re asked to tone it down, whenever possible.

Here’s how it happened:

In a statement issued on Sunday, from a Napa Valley Wine Train spokeswoman Kira Devitt: “…received complaints from several parties in the same car and after three attempts from staff, requesting that the group keep the noise to an acceptable level, they were removed from the train and offered transportation back to the station in Napa.”

Continuing: Wine train spokesman Sam Singer has stated, “On average, Singer said, individuals or groups are asked to get off the wine train once a month for one reason or the other. ‘It’s not a question of bias,’ he said.”

While the chief officer of the train company has issued a public apology, which is the best PR he can do, the behaviors that wine professionals see everyday, would suggest that consumers also need to consider their behavior. Whenever there is alcohol involved, it’s going to be the most difficult and challenging, especially when a large group enters a tasting room.

If that were my company, and remember – this is how rules become rules, I would have a no parties larger than six in the future on public cars, and allow parties larger than that to rent a car for their own enjoyment.

There are good reasons why there are signs everywhere, refusing busloads of people, and that also includes limousines being turned away. I wish I was making this up… I’m not.

From the San Francisco Chronicle: “Later on, Johnson said the manager told them that “this isn’t going to work,” and that if they didn’t “tone it down,” they were going to be asked to get off the train.”

What do you do with behavior that’s been warned? I take the clue…

When there’s alcohol, judgment is off…

It’s a courtesy issue that’s very much connected to alcohol. When we enjoy wine (or any other alcoholic beverage), our defenses for being more private are greatly diminished. [According to Cognitive Sciences, “It has to do with the excitatory affect alcohol has on almost all neurotransmitters and their receptors, including serotonin, dopamine, and GABA.”] This reaction has been going on since the beginning of time, and we all know its effects.

The Wine Train, to its credit, asked the passengers in question to “simma down now, simma down.” Obviously, they didn’t and just kept going. They took a private party onto a public train, where others were also wining and dining, and the others weren’t being asked to chill out. It was just this happy party, who forgot that others around them might just want to also enjoy wine and watch the sights go by, and not have to live in their party vicariously.

The group felt demeaned when they left the train, because the police had to escort them away. What did they expect, after being asked to cooperate with the train’s culture? The book reading group was just having too much fun. It’s as simple as that.

Party girls, I might have even been with you in days gone by. I’ve have my fun days, and I have no regrets… My Peter Pan days ended, when I began my job in the wine business, so I couldn’t be with you. When there’s alcohol involved, we just have to be more careful. We, in the wine business, have instructions on what to do, when people have lost control. Pre my job? Yeah, I might have been riding that train, high on… life in the fun zone, too. But not now. I have a responsibility to everyone at the party, not just one group… My parties have me managing 800 people. I need to have it go really right.

As someone who has had to professionally refuse to serve others, who were beyond the norm of sounds being generated at a place of business, it must have had to be done, for the sake of everyone’s comfort. (Comfort is also part of this… ) And, it must not have been an easy call, for whomever had to make the final decision. Weighing in as a person who has served a lot of alcohol, I’ve also actually threatened to call the police, when a customer refused to cooperate. It was the threat that actually turned her around. But, she pushed me that far, as I had my cell phone in hand.

This encounter was a perfectly healthy young woman, who had taken a chair set aside for someone with a handicap from our admin area, and was refusing to give it to a woman with a broken foot. The woman needed to sit down, but the person with high heels that no one should be wearing, had sat in that chair all night. I thought to myself, what if the woman with the handicap decided to turn me in for not complying? I had to go on record with the police department, which had issued my license for the night, lest the person who really needed the chair couldn’t get it from me. When you’re in a position of the parade, you darn well better know how to pull up the rear.

Courtesy is a common missing ingredient, when someone is confronted. From the story’s quotes, something was certainly missing.

UPDATE: A very interesting read, on September 04, 2015 7:00 p.m., by 

Telling it like it is: “It’s a national story. Last month, a group of 11 women (10 of whom are black) were escorted off the Napa Valley Wine Train, allegedly for loud and obnoxious behavior that elicited complaints from other passengers. The women were members of a book club who were simply having a good time.

“Been there. Done that!”