Wine- A different type of industry



The wine industry has been a visible part of the California railroad scene since the early 1900s.   Wine was shipped within the state and interstate using dedicated tank cars.  It was common for wines to be produced in California and bottled in local markets in other parts of the country.   New York state used to be a leader in imported bulk wine for many years.   One the leading brands, Taylor, blended the California product with their locally sourced wine.


natx_7501_3-dome_tank_8k_ICC103_insulated_AmbroseWineCo - Copy

SHPX 6608

CDLX 307 - Bearcreek Vinyard

ACFX 6337

Copy of Gibson wine color

GATX 33491 IS (3)

Wine was shipped in a variety of tank cars.  Most of the tank type bodies were insulated with a food grade lining.  The cars were in dedicated service and would not be loaded with other commodities.  The unusual member of the fleet was the rebuilt milk cars leased or purchased from General American.

 Wine produced by premium houses would rarely be subjected to this long trip.  We are talking about inexpensive table or jug wines.  There were fortified wines that were shipped by rail as well.   The picture shown below is the Fresno yard  in the late 1950s.  It gives you and idea of how many cars would be possible to see a major shipping point like Fresno.

Fresno Yard Photo

The SP, WP and ATSF had numerous shippers of bulk wine in the routes in the Central Valley of California.   The plants were often unassuming when compared to the over-the-top architecture of today’s producers.  This class of wine never aged in oak imported from France in limestone caves or old vine covered stone buildings.  Nearly all of the operations are inside a large structure with possibly some steel storage tanks out back.  Blending of various wine stocks would allow the producer to achieve a fairly uniform taste.   The buildings could built against a backdrop taking minimum layout space.  While the harvest season is late summer to early fall, shipments could be year around.   Chateau Martin was a big producer of table wines with several plants within California.  CM was noted for using old milk tank cars to ship wine their eastern bottlers.   The cars were a shade of purple with hand painted graphics.   You can learn more about this company by visiting Dr. James Lancaster’s website.

One of the older family producer wineries is Beaulieu Vineyard in Rutherford, California.  It is in the center of the legendary Napa Valley.  You can find today’s winery along Highway 29 close to St. Helena.    I have always admired the old stone winery covered with ivy.   It has old style class which is lacking in most of the recent wineries built.   I had always wondered if the winery had a spur at one time.   Well, I found this picture the other night while collecting information for the posting.  I suspect that the boxcar had bottles or shipping containers.   They may have received fruit in reefers.  Grapes a often bought and sold to achieve the right balance or character in the wine.

BV-historical bldg

rutherford beauliu

The photo above shows the south end of Beaulieu winery.  The picture was focused on the SP excursion train and not the building.  Fortunate for me, the image had this gem in the background.

So if you want to model wine cars and adding a winery to your railroad, where do I start?   A common wine car was AC&F insulated 8000 gallon version.   A million of these have been imported so they can be had cheaply.

CDLX 764 (1) 6-40


Precision Scale Models did some GATC 6000 gallon cars a while back.  They are pricy and not perfect.

In the meanwhile, we have a wonderful supply of decals produced by Protocraft.   Now if , we can get Norm to do the California Dispatch Line decals and a low cost wine car is at hand.  CDLX operated a large fleet of insulated cars supporting the food and wine industry.   Please Norm


17 thoughts on “Wine- A different type of industry

  1. A very interesting post! This morning I am heading off on a trip to the Frank Gehry designed winery in the Rioja district of Spain, so your comments about fancy wineries was quite fitting!

    • I subscribe to Wine Spectator. Periodically they will feature a new winery being built on a grand scale. I have certainly sampled wine in a few of these. The ultramodern surrounds remind me of a Lufthansa club and not the humble surrounds of Russian River or Dry Creek I so enjoy.


      • Had White Oak Chardonnay the other evening and Scott Harvey Zin last night from my wine club shipments. I miss wine country!

  2. A shelf layout based on the rail line parallel to the Napa St Helena highway would make a great “achievable” layout. Steam and presumably diesel would be at home during the operational years and now a dinner train tourist line. Presumably there were lots of agricultural movements before all the wineries so it wouldn’t be solely an AA nightmare railroad.

    • Bill
      Highway 29 is scary during peak tourist season.
      The Southern Pacific Calistoga branch manage to survive a long time servicing customers of the valley. From what I have seen, only a few industries used rail in the later years. Wine is not a traditional agricultural business. Mechanization was by farm labor.
      By the way, there was an interurban to further dilute passenger business from Calistoga to Nap and on to Vallejo on the SF Bay.

  3. If I’m ever to build a Proto:48 layout, using my Glacier Park SP equipment as the starting point, it’s the wine industry that I want to model – and this post offers some great information to help me out. One of these days I’ll grow tired of Port Rowan in S scale and be looking for a fresh challenge, and this’ll be it.
    Thanks for this, Gene!

    • Trevor
      That seemed to be your interest given your loco choice. The Clovis branch would a natural if you like wine cars.

      By the way, your blog achieved a major milestone of one thousand posts. It has been an enjoyable journey.

      Well done,

  4. Very interesting article, Gene. I tried to see an enlargement of the winery photo with the boxcar to see the number. The car appears to be a T&NO B-40-5 or 6 or 7 truss rod boxcar.

  5. Great post .
    Wine – a very important commodity for California even during prohibition (altar wines and wine grapes).
    Of course in Southern California, the Rancho Cucamonga area was famous for viticulture with wine being shipped by rail and ship and when prohibition started, home vintners were allowed to make 200 gallon, so shipping of wine grapes caused a refrigerated car shortage.
    We have the good fortune to live 17 miles north of the Temecula Valley wine appellation with access to 40 wineries. The wine industry started in the valley in 1938 and there was a railroad that ran from Temecula to Colton until 1936. In fact, the main road through our community is named Railroad Canyon Road and we live in that canyon. Numerous washouts have removed all vestiges of the railroad. Metrolink is now forging back down toward the area with a station opening in late 2015.
    Anyone that wants to look at the Riverside International Wine Competition for wine purchase ideas and wine tasting road trip ideas check out
    The Competition has been running for 30 years , by Dan Berger of the Napa Chronicle. The wine categories are great for making up a list of tasting when traveling to Canada and around the USA (and Australia and Mexico and Europe). Eat your heart out, my wife is volunteer at the competition and gets “paid” with cases of wine for her 3 days of hard work behind the scenes. Each winery has to submit 4 bottles and if only one is opened for judging the extras are saved and distributed to volunteers.
    Our favorite wine ? Whatever we are drinking —- of course it would be better if the railroad still came through Railroad Canyon and we could sit outside and watch trains and sip wine
    Lee Freeman

    • Lee
      hope you are doing better after your recent hospitalization. Your wife was kind enough to see a shot of you attending a recent SoCal railroad show.
      Wow, I had no idea of the history of your area for wine and grapes. Thank you for sharing.

  6. On a recent vacation in Chile, we saw a ship that was being laded with bulk wine for Modavi in California. My wife’s father was Chilean and had a couple of nephews directly involved in the wine industry. Dick

  7. Excellent article Gene, as always. I have always been a fan of tank cars, and their use. Also, having lived in California most of my life, I am familiar and have been to many wineries. Never gave a thought to transit of wine, since the focus was on specific varietals, not generic blends. Of course, it is an industry and as such has many segments. I have photographed some of the Napa Valley trains related activities, but not anything more than the Wine Train, or the use of rail cars such as the Yountville center (designed by my old friend Richard Miller), and I seem to recall there ebbing an NP caboose there at one time. Not sure about what, if anything, is left. Anyway, is there a way to know how many tank cars may have been in wine service over the years? I have the Kaminski AC&F book. Any other references you can point me too?

  8. Always loved the wine country-wine could be my second hobby-and loved the comment regarding BV-one of my early favorites-wonder if they had any cars? May check my old equipment registers and see who did-
    My middle name should have been zinfandel-

    • Jesse
      Beaulieu was a favorite for cabs. Zins are now my favorite. Lodi Zins are very enjoyable wines to have with dinner.
      Beaulieu did not own or lease wine cars. They may have purchased wine that brought in a tank car from another winery.

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