The Journal Register (Medina, NY)

September 23, 2013

Train ride a reminder of simpler time

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Medina Journal-Register

Medina Journal-Register — When I was younger, my family and I would take a train from our home in Virginia Beach to Grand Central Station in New York City. From there we would take a subway to my grandparents’ apartment in Yonkers. 

After we moved back to New York State we continued traveling by train. We’d head up from Olean to Depew and again, we’d ride downstate. 

Normally, those trips occurred around the winter holiday season.

Living in Medina, and having the Medina Railroad Museum in my backyard, has allowed me to enjoy the romanticism of a train ride a bit more frequently.

As both my kids are still young, I’ve visited the museum and taken a ride in coach when the cars were pushed and pulled by Thomas. He’s a very useful engine, you know.

This past Saturday, I had the privilege of being a passenger on one of the Niagara Wine Trail Winery Trains. The space in coach seemed smaller than I remembered as a child, but I’m obviously not as small as I used to be.

No one seemed to care about the the space. Everyone on board the car seemed intent on enjoying the two-hour ride from Medina to Lockport and back. I’m sure that the mood was even more enjoyable and relaxed in First Class. 

Soon after the ride shuffled off, we all received our commemorative wine glass. A few minutes later, we were served our first, um, let’s call it a “generous” taste. All told we tasted six wines, three apiece from Victorianbourg Wine Estate and Honeymoon Trail Winery. 

Now, one thing you should know about me: I either like a drink, or I don’t. There were seven ladies — a group of five from one family and a pair from another — who sat near me in a double row. These ladies knew their wine to the point where I heard one say she could taste a certain kind of grape. I was impressed.

But I also wanted to know how they heard about the train, and whether they had made previous trips to Medina. 

Paula Blandino, who had the unfortunate luck of sitting next to me, made the trip with the group of five. Blandino is from Eden, and she mentioned hearing about the trip from her sister-in-law in the Rochester area. Laurel Turner of Chili and Cheryl Turner, her stepdaughter, of Brockport, sat across from us. They learned of the excursion through the Genesee Valley Pennysaver.

Blandino said the day was a way to spend a girls’ day out with three generations of her family. Sampling wine was a obvious draw. Not hosting the tasting was also a plus.

“My husband makes cheese,” she said. “So we like to host wine tastings at home. I think this is something he’d enjoy; I’d bring him back for this.”

Blandino drove through downtown Medina before getting on the train. She said the village was impressive at a glance.

“I was struck by the old stone architecture, and I think it’d be worth it to just walk around and discover what’s here, because you can always find gems in a small town,” she added.

Cheryl Turner agreed.

“I’ve done the Niagara Wine Tour a few times, but I’d never stopped and actually looked in Medina,” she said. “There’s really a lot to see.”

Cheryl and Laurel ate at the Country Club Restaurant in downtown for what they termed a “pre-wine meal” before hopping on the train. Seeing the other restaurants in town impressed both of them, as they noted “there is more to eat here than just fast food.”

As the ride progressed to Lockport we all enjoyed our three tastings on the first leg of the trip. On the return trip, as we tasted our other three samples, we all agreed on a few things that could be improved upon with the ride. 

While the ride was enjoyable, the voice of Marty Phelps could be heard but not entirely understood on the train’s sound system. Speaking to him after the ride, I can honestly say I wish I’d heard him during the ride. He had some great quips.

Blandino mentioned that including a map would be a good idea to show points of interest along the train trail. With so many people onboard making the trip from out of town, she said listing places to shop, or historic places to visit would add to the trip if people choose to make a day of the event.

With the pending expansion of the Niagara Wine Trail itself, I’d completely agree. Riding through Middleport, Gasport, and over the Upside Down Bridge into Lockport, there were indeed scenic views. A handout with the history of the area would add to the trip.

But let’s be honest. Saturday’s passengers were there for the experience of wine on a train.

Sarah Dickinson and Tami Wills made the trip from Fredonia. After the train ride, Dickinson said it was the first time she’d ever ridden a Medina short line train for fun. Previously she had worked the events as her dad, Jim Dickinson, is the Medina Railroad Museum president. Still, a nearly two-hour drive from Fredonia?

“It’s a wine train!” she exclaimed. 

Wills noted it was her first-ever experience on a passenger train, and she was interested on a return trip to try out the Polar Express.

“I had a blast,” she said. “I can’t wait to do something like this again.”

The Niagara Wine Trail Winery Trains conclude their inaugural run on Oct. 5. Conceived by the museum’s media coordinator Michael Gaughn, they have sold plenty of tickets in their first three trips and First Class would have a waiting list if one existed.

I think it’s safe to say that if the Niagara Wine Trail continues expanding, with Medina at its center, the train tastings could be a main attraction.

Howard Balaban thinks the Niagara Wine Trail Winery Train is just one of many things to do locally. He can be reached at howard.balaban@journal-register.com.