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Napa Valley Wine Train sold

Almost 26 years to the day after its inaugural run, the Napa Valley Wine Train has been sold, the company announced Tuesday.

The business, which was caught up in controversy last month after removing a book club composed of mostly black women from the train, has been purchased by a partnership consisting of a Washington state hotel group and a California real estate company.

The amount received by the Wine Train's owners, the family of former food magnate Vincent DeDomenico, was not disclosed.

The new partners include privately held Noble House Hotels & Resorts of Kirkland, Wash., which controls 18 luxury or boutique properties, including Napa's River Terrace Inn. The other partner is Brooks Street, a real estate development and investment company with offices in Walnut Creek and Newport Beach.

The Wine Train's 150 employees all will remain on the job, a spokeswoman said.

Pat Colee, Noble House founder and chairman of the board, said in a statement that his company was 'committed to maintaining the character and charm' of the Wine Train while enhancing its operations.'

'As Noble House continues to expand our Northern California offerings, the Napa Valley Wine Train is the perfect addition to showcase our multifaceted service culture,' Colee said.

Morgan Moore, a spokeswoman for the Wine Train, said in an email that the talks regarding the purchase of the business had been in the works for months. 'The timing of the sale is in no way related to the recent incident regarding the ladies book club,' she said.

That incident involved 10 black women and one white woman who were booted off the train for what train officials first described as 'loud and disruptive behavior.' The train was much criticized over social media and its CEO, Tony Giaccio, quickly apologized, saying 'the Wine Train was 100 percent wrong in its handling of this issue.'

Late last month an attorney for the women said they were considering a lawsuit alleging racial discrimination.

Representatives for both Noble House and Brooks Street were unavailable for comment Tuesday.

The Wine Train has become a widely known attraction for tourists seeking a dining getaway through an iconic wine region. Its tours range from a $124 gourmet dinner to a $250 'New Year's Eve ball.'

The rail line upon which the train travels was built in 1864 by California's first millionaire, Samuel Brannan, as the means to bring visitors to his spa resort in Calistoga.

DeDomenico, an inventor of Rice-A-Roni and former owner of Ghirardelli Chocolate, purchased the rail line, acquired the antique rail stock and developed the business in the mid-1980s after Southern Pacific decided to abandon the line and sell the property, according to the Wine Train website. The first passenger trip took place on Sept. 16, 1989.

Giaccio, the Wine Train's CEO, said in a statement Tuesday that the company's leaders were thrilled at the purchase by Noble House.

He called the train a 'treasured attraction' and said, 'we are confident that the Noble House family, with its proven hospitality expertise, will not only preserve this wonderful institution, but ensure its continued growth and enhancement.'

You can reach Staff Writer Robert Digitale at 521-5285 or robert.digitale@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @rdigit.

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