Delayed Passengers Treated to an Impromptu Wine-Tasting on Broken-Down Amtrak Train

When the Acela stalled, a French winemaker came to the rescue.

By: Carol Ross Joynt

This is a story that easily reaffirms our faith in the human spirit, the power of generosity, and the magic of good wine. It may best be told by the person who brought it to our attention, Janne Nolan, an international security research professor at George Washington University. She had an Amtrak trip last Friday and sent us an e-mail account over the weekend. It’s worth retelling because it’s charming, but it also prompts the hope that Amtrak may keep it in mind should the same kind of delay happen again. Of course, the trick is to make sure a jovial and generous winemaker is aboard.

“The 2 PM Acela from NYC to DC yesterday broke down—repeatedly—beginning somewhere near Metropark, New Jersey, [and] took six more hours to get to Baltimore, where it finally died completely,” she writes. “As people were beginning to panic and despair, the train was suddenly transformed into an instant Grand Vins de Bordeaux wine-tasting by a French vintner.”

As it happened, Nolan was traveling in the “quiet car”—the same car as winemaker Paul Goldschmidt, owner of Chateau Siaurac, who was en route to DC for a special wine-tasting event at Calvert Woodley on Connecticut Avenue. The wine store had earlier sent out an announcement boasting of his visit as “what promises to be one of the most exciting in-store tasting events of the entire season.” It called Goldschmidt’s wines “stunning.” It was scheduled for 5 to 7 PM, but of course the time came and went and with no winemaker. He was trapped on a train.

“Realizing he was going to be too late,” Nolan reports, “Goldschmidt decided to take out his many wines and launch a spontaneous, engaging presentation of his several varieties of excellent Pomerol. Before long, the disgruntled passengers were singing ‘La Marseillaise’—on the quiet car!”

As is not unusual for a wine-tasting, the passengers got to know one another during their party. Nolan notes that Goldschmidt’s father, Bertrand, “was the only French scientist to work on the Manhattan Project.” The Calvert Woodley announcement also mentioned Goldschmidt is in the wine business with his wife, Aline, and that they inherited their vineyards from her father.

All good things must come to an end, however, even a miserable train trip that was transformed into a party by the glorious grape. “We had a blast despite our seven-hour journey from NYC,” Nolan writes. “There was a group of wine connoisseurs waiting for [Goldschmidt] in a private room at Ripple. He was hours late, but he made it because a few of his new train friends got him into a cab [in Baltimore] and escorted him to DC.” He arrived at Ripple at 10:15 PM and, according to Ben Gilberti of Calvert Woodley, who organized the tasting at the store and the dinner, continued the evening with more wine, including “some great Bordeaux like 1970 Haut Brion, 1982 Cos d’Estournel.” Not a bad end at all.