Remnants of Sonoma Valley’s railroad heritage are found from Schellville to Kenwood, but one local winery easily claims the most romantic use of a vintage rail car. Cline Cellars uses its refurbished dining car as a bridal suite.
Dozens of brides and attendants used the forest green car this year as a place to calm their nerves and perfect their hair, makeup, bouquets and gowns. The setting also has been the backdrop for numerous wedding photos, and couples hosting weddings of up to 20 guests can use it for their receptions.
“We get some really neat reactions from it,” said Shannon Howlett, Cline’s special events administrator. “It’s definitely a conversation starter.”
Winery owners Fred and Nancy Cline acquired the car in 1995. The previous owner used it as a private car for 20 years, making rail trips from San Diego to New York.
Source: long formal dresses
“It was in moderately poor shape when they got it,” said Jim Caroompas, the marketing manager. “(The Clines) are great at buying old historic things and bringing them back.”
They restored the interior and painted the long body before opening it for guests a few years later.
Caroompas said the rail car is a fitting addition to the property. It joins an aviary for rescued birds, an adobe mission, a Victorian farmhouse used as a tasting room and the California Missions Museum, which houses replicas of all 21 missions handcrafted for the 1939 World’s Fair at Treasure Island.
Today the dining car features burgundy velveteen curtains with golden trim and tassels, matching carpeting and vintage floral wallpaper. Roses and embellishments are painted on the ceiling, with a look reminiscent of the era of elegant railroad dining. Gold-tone chairs line several rectangular dining tables decked with floor-length white linens.
The Clines added a deck that is surrounded by mature weeping willow and eucalyptus trees, overlooking an expansive lawn and one of the six spring-fed carp ponds on the 350-acre estate.
When the rail car isn’t hosting bridal parties, it’s used as a green room for musicians performing at receptions and winery functions, and as a meeting place for winery staff and corporate groups and agencies.
It’s especially appropriate for a valley with a rich railroad history, said Howlett. Numerous lines ran throughout the valley starting in the late 1880s. The Sonoma Valley Historical Society’s Depot Park Museum, which includes three rail cars, features railroad era items that include a uniform that belonged to Howlett’s great-grandfather, a conductor.
Other trains cars can be found at Sonoma TrainTown, a scale-model railway and amusement park; at Eighth Street East and Fremont Drive, location of the old Vineburg depot; and at homes in Schellville and Boyes Hot Springs. Two weathered boxcars at Nicholson Ranch are visible from Napa Road, and the historic Kenwood Depot is a treasured community gathering spot.