Sunday, July 22, 2012
The Express-Times Features Warren County Wine Train
Warren County Winery Train offers historic ride ending at Villa Milagro Vineyard
Published: Saturday, July 21, 2012, 5:41 AM
By Kelly Huth | The Express-Times
View full sizePhoto Courtesy of Villa Milagro VineyardsCustomers take a 35 minute train ride along the Delaware River to Villa Milagro Vineyards as part of the Warren County Winery Train.
Taking a meandering train ride along the banks of a scenic river en route to a wine tasting at an organic vineyard sounds like something out of Napa Valley, Calif.
But the Warren County Winery Train is providing the same experiences in your own backyard without the cost of a plane ticket.
Each weekend from May 5 until Oct. 28 (taking a break while Thomas the Train is in town), the winery train departs Phillipsburg for a 35-minute ride along the Delaware River, depositing guests at the Villa Milagro Vineyard in Pohatcong Township.
The route started as a way to boost tourism and get more people to ride the historic steam engine, says Chris Cotty, Vice President and General Manager of the Delaware River Railroad Excursions, which is operated by the New York Susquehanna & Western Technical & Historic Society.
“We realized people won’t keep riding the train unless we give them something to do,” Cotty says.
When the train reaches Riegelsville, N.J., guests board a school bus for a 10 minute ride to the winery. Cotty says the route started five years ago, originally with a different Warren County vineyard. Villa Milagro came on board three years ago.
At Villa Milagro, they’ll get to see the organic and sustainable practices used in the vineyard, view the crush pad and tour the winery where grapes are hand-harvested and hand-pressed.
Audrey Gambino, who co-owns Villa Milagro with her husband Steve, says once inside folks can taste the wines and nosh on hot hors d’oeuvres. And she assures that the tour isn’t just for wine aficionados.
“To me it’s such a romantic trip with the smoke curling out of the stack — a piece of history,” Audrey Gambino says.
“For us the benefit is introducing people to New Jersey wines,” she says. “Secondly we hope that people who come on the train become return customers.”
The train ride itself is a pleasure for Gambino, too.
“I was thrilled because I was a huge train buff,” she says of being approached to participate in the tour.
One of Gambino’s criteria for where they opened their vineyard was if she’d be able to hear a train whistle, which Villa Milagro affords.
Gambino says that guests can experience the history of the area on the train ride, especially as they pass by historic lime kilns.
Delaware River Railroad Excursions is a non-profit group, and everyone who works on the railroad does so on a volunteer basis. Proceeds from the $35 ticket go toward paying the winery, maintaining the steam engine and rehabilitating the track. The group is also in the process of securing a grant to rebuild the former Riegelsville station, Cotty says.
Currently the train ride is limited to 45 people, but if a trip sells out they will add a second group departing at 12:30 p.m. Cotty says the height of the tour season is September through October.
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