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On the Warren County Winery Train to Villa Milagro Vineyard

I was researching vineyards in the northeast online a few weeks ago and discovered the Warren County Winery Train, a steam locomotive that takes wine lovers to a vineyard in New Jersey. I was excited.

I’d taken diesel trains in Jamaica but a steam train was an entirely different thing. Just the mention of a steam train immediately transported me back to a time long before I was born.

I could hear the sound of the steam as it escaped the chug, chug of the engine. I saw women dressed in hats and gloves, men in suits followed by uniformed porters carrying trunk suitcases. I imagined myself there and more than anything, I wanted to be on that train.

I emailed some friends, proposed a day when we should go and booked tickets online. As the day drew closer, I was as excited as a child waiting for Christmas and prayed anxiously for good weather.

The Warren County Winery Train operates on weekends only from May to October by a volunteer crew. It is one of the trips that the Delaware River Road Excursions organizes each year. (They also do other themed excursions like the Easter Bunny Train, the Corn Maize Train, and the very popular Polar Express).

We woke up to a cool, overcast morning on the day of our excursion, loaded up the car and set off on the 90-minute ride to Phillipsburg. It was beautiful to see that the leaves on some of the trees that line the highway were already begun turning yellow, orange and red.

About an hour into the drive, the clouds suddenly gave way to brilliant sunshine as if someone had flipped a switch. It happened that quickly.

Phillipsburg is a quaint little town, which was pretty easy to find. The trouble came when we tried to find the train station. We drove right past the turn on to Elizabeth Street and ended up in Pennsylvania.

Thankfully, we had enough time so we doubled back and found it. We’d noticed signs as we pulled into town but missed the one directing us to the station. They could definitely be placed more prominently.

Winery Train

A few cars on the train

After days of daydreaming about the steam train, I was disappointed when it didn’t arrive. The conductor said there had a problem had developed so they had to take it out of service. We were sent on a regular (diesel, perhaps?) train.

I had also imagined a small train — they sell only 45 tickets — but when the train arrived I realized that the Winery Train is only one car of several. The other cars take riders for pumpkin picking, and panning for gemstones at the Ol’ Susquehana Mine. Despite my disappointment over the steam train, the vintage cars with antique suitcases that rest on racks above the seats made me think of the time when women wore pencil skirts and men suits and everyone smoked.

The Winery Train leaves Phillipsburg, NJ at 11:00 a.m. and takes a leisurely 20-minute ride along the Delaware River to the end of the line. From there, a yellow school bus makes the 15-minute trip to Villa Milagro, a vineyard that spreads over more than 100 in Finesville, NJ.  

Villa Milagro Vineyard

The location of the winery, in the Musconetcong Valley, where the Musconetcong River flows from the Delaware River, also offers spectacular views of four counties in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

Steve and Audrey Gambino are the proud owners of Villa Milagro, House of Miracles. A family-run operation, they produce about 12,000 cases of wines each year. They spent the first three years following their purchase of the vineyard turning it organic. They don’t use pesticides or herbicides and provide a sustainable habitat for native species of birds, animals and wildlife.

We spent about an hour at the vineyard learning about the different grapes they produce, hand harvesting, blending, aging, bottling, and even labeling. Audrey Gambino or Dr. Audrey, who led our tour, showed us how painstaking it is to apply labels to the bottles – they must be placed in the same position on each.

When it was time for the tasting, Dr. Audrey ushered us into the tasting room. We tasted six wines – from a light white to deep red. Each was paired with foods that blended superbly – a mild cheese to meatballs. I liked them all and found it difficult to pick a favorite.

The hour passed too quickly. Before we knew it, we were back on the bus and train heading for Phillipsburg.

Villa Milagro does tastings, cooking classes and offers a dinner with the vintners. They’re also open for weddings, birthdays, anniversaries and other events.

Ol’ Susquehanna Mine and Corn Maze

We stopped for an hour for lunch at the Ol’ Susquehanna Mine and Corn Maze on the way back.  We spread the foods we had brought – cheese, crackers, grapes, sandwiches, saltfish fritters, and salads – and opened a few bottles of the wines we’d purchased on a few of the picnic tables

After lunch, a few of my friends checked out the corn maze. There was also a bounce-about for the little ones.

Soon we heard the whistle and the rumbling of the train. We didn’t have time to pan for gemstones, like rose quartz, rubies, amethyst, emeralds, crystals and arrowheads.

The train stopped a second time so we could pick pumpkins. We returned to Phillipsburg around 4 pm.

Warren County Winery Train Particulars

Round trip tickets: $35

Departs 100 Elizabeth Street, Phillipsburg at 11:00 a.m. The wine train has a capacity of 45 seats. If those seats sell out, they’ll run another train at 12:30. The train picks returns around 2:00 p.m. The train operates from May to October only.

Villa Milagro is located at 33 Warren Glen Road in Finesville, NJ. The vineyard is open on weekends for tastings from 11am to 5 pm, daily from 9-6 for sales, and by appointment.

Linking up with Travel Photo Thursday, Oh, the Places I’ve Been. Be sure to head over and check out more photos from locations around the world.

Comments

  1. Interesting trip you’ve detailed here. I checked out a vineyard this past summer and found it to be more engaging than I expected.
    EverywhereAmy recently posted..Where We Get Our Food : Corn Harvest in the Texas PanhandleMy Profile

  2. What a wonderful day for the entire family!! Who knew Jersey had a winery??!! Looks like an amazing time!!
    Jeff Titelius recently posted..In Search of Christmas: The magic and wonder of Santa’s LaplandMy Profile

  3. What a fun way to spend a day on the weekend. Your picnic sounds delicious and the only disappointment of the day was the lack of a steam train. You’ll just have to go again.
    Leigh recently posted..Alberta Road Trip: Searching for Birds, Badlands & Buffalo JumpsMy Profile

  4. What an interesting winery tour, Marcia. And what a lot of different activities on offer. Reckon our wineries in WA could take a tip or two about diversifying.
    Johanna recently posted..Cacao Balls – A little bit of afternoon Bliss – Sweet Snack RecipesMy Profile

  5. I did not realize that New Jersey had wineries. I really like that the one you visited is an organic one, and that did sound like a wonderful visit. Ninety minutes on a train seems to be my limit for considering it fun as opposed to just another way to get from Point A to Point B. The 2 stops on the return trip is a good way to break up the journey. So sorry you didn’t get the steam engine experience though.
    Michele {Malaysian Meanders} recently posted..Reality versus Expectations on The Great Barrier ReefMy Profile

  6. I have always been fascinated by steam trains and would like to travel in one. Interesting that in my country we still use old outdated diesel trains.
    Rachel M recently posted..Chalbi Desert – Horizons, Salt pans …My Profile

  7. Beautiful place 🙂 I wish to take a winery tour someday…
    Muza-chan recently posted..One-tonne ShimenawaMy Profile

  8. tht was a nice vineyard. Loved the pumpkins atoo.
    NatureFootstep Travel recently posted..Honolulu 130811-130902 SummaryMy Profile

  9. Seems like a very good tour. I especially love that steam engine train 🙂 Thanks for sharing Marcia 🙂
    Arti recently posted..Tirupati Balaji Temple – Where Wishes Come True AND The Cry Of Govinda!My Profile

  10. I plan to go again, Leigh!

  11. There are wineries all over the northeast from NY to Virginia.
    The family has worked really hard to create a sustainable environment.
    Oh no, it was only 20 minutes on the train, then about 15 on the bus. They go quite slowly so you can take in the views.
    Thanks, Michele. I plan to go back for the steam train.

  12. We used to have diesel trains in Jamaica too. But steam trains are romantic and fun!

  13. Hi Marcia,

    So nice to meet you!

    What a wonderful journey of a blog you have! Your photos are stunning and I’m sure do justice to their subjects! The Warren County Winery certainly has a variety of interesting activities to be enjoyed by its visitors. I love your first photo of the vines, breathtaking and serene. My little village here on the island of Crete is surrounded by vineyards, as well as olive groves and fruit orchards bearing oranges, lemons, cherries and pomegranates, to name a few. Walnuts, pistachios and almonds are also popular and are harvested now!

    Thanks for your comment at Poppy View and hope to see you again soon!

    Poppy
    Poppy recently posted..FAKING FALLMy Profile

  14. Oh my gosh, how fun Marcia! Though, I would have panicked a bit if I missed the turn with a departure time to be met. Cheese and meatballs? Yes, please. I have a long list of train rides that I want to take and I now have another one to add to the list. Great photos 🙂
    Mike recently posted..Taking My Golden Retriever, Phoenix, To The Vet For A CheckupMy Profile

  15. This looks like such a fun outing and experience especially if you’re with friends. I knew there were wineries in NY and PA but I never expected NJ. This is even more appealing since they’re organic. Hope you get back on the steam train soon.
    Mary recently posted..5 Free Things to Do In Salzburg with KidsMy Profile

  16. A combination of a steam train ride and a winery can only be a good thing, Marcia — but I didn’t quite get it, as to whether you got to ride the steam train back, or it was a more modern one, as you said there was a problem with the train at the beginning.
    Andrew Graeme Gould recently posted..EcoFeria de La Reina (organic market), SantiagoMy Profile

  17. The vineyard looks lovely. Honestly, I never thought of New Jersey and wine before — now I will! The train ride would be totally fun and the pumpkin picking is such a nice bonus.
    Cathy Sweeney recently posted..Shopping in MilanMy Profile

  18. You’re not alone, Cathy. I hadn’t either until I moved to NY. There are vineyards all over the northeast. I’ve been to vineyards in Virginia as well.
    The best thing about this particular vineyard for me was that I love all the wines we tasted. That doesn’t happen often.
    The train ride was really special. I’ll definitely go back again.

  19. Oh sorry, Andrew. The steam train was being repaired so we rode the regular train both ways.

  20. Me too, Mary! It’s really a cool experience and great for group outings.

  21. Actually, a few of our friends missed the train by just a couple of seconds because of construction on the highway, then missing the turn. Getting there on time was one of my biggest concerns. Glad you like the photos, Mike.

  22. Hi Poppy, so great of you to stop by! Crete sounds just so delightful, I can just imagine how beautiful it is from the photos you posted.
    I’d visit Crete for the fruits and nuts.

  23. This sounds like a delightful way to spend an afternoon with friends. Sorry that the steam train was under repair since you’d been looking forward to riding it, but it looks like you enjoyed your time all the same!
    Dana Carmel recently posted..Where to Stay in Istanbul: Hotel Tulip HouseMy Profile

  24. Thanks, Dana. I did enjoy it but I’ll go back another time for the steam train.