Wine Train apologizes to black women booted from tasting tour
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SAN FRANCISCO — The Napa Valley Wine Train issued an apology Tuesday to a book club that includes mostly black women who said they were booted from a tasting tour because of their race.
The company also promised additional training for employees on cultural diversity and sensitivity, and they offered the group free passes for 50 people for a future trip.
“The Napa Valley Wine Train was 100 percent wrong in its handling of this issue,” CEO Anthony “Tony” Giaccio said in a statement. “We accept full responsibility for our failures and for the chain of events that led to this regrettable treatment of our guests.”
The 11 members of the book club, all but one of whom is African-American, said rude employees ordered them off the train on Saturday, mid-journey, and then marched them down several aisles, to their embarrassment. One member of the group is 83.
“You can apologize, but you can’t take away the experience we had,” Lisa Johnson, an author from Antioch, California, who has organized the group’s outings to wine country for the last 17 years, told the Oakland Tribune. “We were still marched down the aisle of the train car to waiting police officers. I’m still traumatized by the whole experience.”
Wine train spokesman Sam Singer said employees had repeatedly asked the women to quiet down or get off the train and accept a free bus ride back to their starting point.
Giaccio said he had a conversation with Johnson, a leader of the Sistahs on the Reading Edge Book Club, and offered the group the free passes for a reserved car “where you can enjoy yourselves as loudly as you desire.”
“We were insensitive when we asked you to depart our train by marching you down the aisle past all the other passengers,” he said in his letter. “While that was the safest route for disembarking, it showed a lack of sensitivity on our part.”
The Napa Valley Wine Train offers food and wine to passengers as they roll to Napa County wineries in updated Pullman cars.
On average, Singer said, individuals or groups are asked to get off the wine train once a month for various reasons.
Wine train employees had called police in St. Helena about the book club members, who were already off the train when officers arrived.
Police spokeswoman Maria Gonzalez said it was the first time in memory that the wine train had sought such assistance from the department.
KRISTIN J. BENDER, Associated Press Writer