California wine train orders off black women’s book club

In this June 2, 2011 file photo, a couple takes pictures at the back of the Napa Valley Wine Train as it makes its way through St. Helena, Calif. (Eric Risberg/AP, 2011)

Members of a mostly black women’s book club say a luxe Napa Valley wine train kicked them off because of their race.

The 11 members of the Sisters on the Reading Edge book club, all but one of whom is African American, say the Napa Valley Wine Train ordered them off Saturday, mid-journey. As debate built Monday on social media under the hashtag #laughingwhileblack, wine train spokesman Sam Singer said train employees had asked the women to either quiet down or get off the wine train and accept a free bus ride back to their starting point.

A manager on the train repeatedly told the women they were laughing and talking too loudly, book-club member Lisa Renee Johnson told San Francisco television station KTVU.

“We didn’t do anything wrong,” said Johnson, who chronicled the episode via cellphone videos. On Facebook, Twitter and Yelp on Monday, defenders of the women posted videos of other, past noisy groups celebrating on the wine train, and they debated the wine train’s action with its supporters.

“We still feel this is about race. We were singled out,” Johnson told KTVU.

Wine-train employees marched the book club members through six railroad cars before escorting them off the train, the women said.

Employees of the Napa Valley Wine Train, which offers food and wine to passengers as they roll to Napa County wineries in updated Pullman cars, had asked the book club members to either be quieter or get off the train, Singer said Monday.

“The book club clearly was fun-loving, boisterous and loud enough that it affected the experience of some of the passengers who were in the same car, who complained to staff,” he said.

The company refunded the women’s ticket money, Singer said.

On average, Singer said, individuals or groups are asked to get off the wine train once a month for one reason or the other. “It’s not a question of bias,” he said.

However, a police spokeswoman in the Napa Valley town of St. Helena, which the wine train summoned Saturday, said it was the first time she recalled the wine train seeking police help removing a large group.

The 11 women, one of them 83 years old, already were off the train and standing quietly by the rails when St. Helena police arrived, police spokeswoman Maria Gonzalez said.

Wine train employees had called the police to deal with what they reported were “11 disruptive females,” Gonzalez said.

Police arrived at the railway siding and found “there was no crime being committed … nobody was intoxicated, there were no issues,” so officers left, Gonzalez said.

Johnson did not immediately respond to messages from the Associated Press seeking comment Monday.

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