Napa Wine Train Says It Was '100% Wrong' to Kick Black Women Off

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Members of Sistahs on the Reading Edge after being ejected from Napa Valley Wine Train on Aug. 22.  (Lisa Renee Johnson via Facebook)

Three days after staffers on the Napa Valley Wine Train marched 10 black women off the train -- reportedly for being too loud for the comfort of other passengers -- the company's CEO has tendered a sweeping apology for "this regrettable treatment of our guests."

The firm released a statement Tuesday -- under the auspices of crisis PR specialist Sam Singer -- that says: “The Napa Valley Wine Train was 100 percent wrong in its handling of this issue,” said wine train chief executive officer Anthony "Tony" Giaccio. “We accept full responsibility for our failures and for the chain of events that led to this regrettable treatment of our guests.”

Among other things, Giaccio offered the group kicked off on Saturday a free car for up to 50 guests in compensation for "the entire chain of unfortunate events you experienced."

We'll have more about the apology and the reaction to it in a moment. But first, here's what led to the statement.

The wine train episode involved a book club called Sistahs on the Reading Edge, led by Lisa Renee Johnson of Antioch. The group -- 10 African-American women and a white woman -- booked an excursion through the Napa Valley for one of its periodic get-togethers. No one will be surprised to hear that a group of friends sipping good wine as the valley scenery rolled by was in high spirits.


Johnson told the San Francisco Chronicle's Evan Sernoffsky that while the group "may at times have been 'rambunctious,' they were not 'obnoxious or intoxicated.' "

A handful of others on the same car with Johnson's group was apparently put out, though. Kira Devitt, a company spokeswoman, told media outlets there were several complaints from other passengers on the car and that staffers repeatedly asked the book club to hold it down. When that didn't happen, the group was told it needed to leave the train at St. Helena, and members were reportedly paraded down all six cars of the train to an exit.

Later, the company posted, then removed, a statement on Facebook that accused members of the group of "verbal and physical abuse toward other guests."

Here's one of Johnson's Facebook posts about the ejection:

On Twitter, she used a rather brilliant hashtag:

That was Saturday evening. By Sunday night, the tide of social media outrage was accompanied by newspaper stories and TV news segments. By Monday, Johnson was talking about acting on advice to file a lawsuit against the wine train.

She also had a conversation with Tony Giaccio, the Napa Valley Wine Train CEO. And after that came Giaccio's apology.

The full text is below, but to summarize: He says the group advised the company when it booked the trip that it desired group seating and that the company failed to accommodate the request; that the company was insensitive in the way it made the party exit the train; that it erred in making an "inaccurate" post to Facebook that accused the group of physically and verbally abusing other train passengers; that Giaccio is pledging to launch companywide diversity training; and finally, that the company will offer a full car, free for Johnson and up to 50 guests.

What we don't know is how all that sits with Johnson. KQED tried to contact her Monday and Tuesday without success (she's been busy with other media interviews Tuesday).


Here's the Napa Valley Wine Train statement and apology in its entirety, as released by Sam Singer and Associates:

Napa, Calif.—The top executive of the Napa Valley Wine train contacted a predominately African-American women’s book club and apologized for the removal of 11 of its members from one of its trains after several passengers complained the group’s loudness was negatively impacting their experience.

“The Napa Valley Wine Train was 100 percent wrong in its handling of this issue,” said wine train chief executive officer Anthony “Tony” Giaccio. “We accept full responsibility for our failures and for the chain of events that led to this regrettable treatment of our guests.”

Giaccio said he had a conversation with Lisa Johnson, a leader of the Sistahs on the Reading Edge Book Club, who complained on social media about the removal of 11 book club members from the wine train on Saturday, Aug. 22, after other train passengers complained about the loudness of the group.

Giaccio said he contacted Ms. Johnson late Monday, Aug. 24, and apologized for the book club’s experience, pledging to learn from the incident and offering additional diversity training for employees and inviting the club members, their family and friends to be his guest and fill an entire train car.

Giaccio also wrote an apology letter saying: “I want to apologize for your experience on the Napa Valley Wine Train on Saturday, Aug. 22. We accept full responsibility for our failures and the entire chain of unfortunate events you experienced.”

The letter to the group continued:

“Clearly, we knew in advance when we booked your party that you would be loud, fun-loving and boisterous—because you told us during the booking process that you wanted a place where your Club could enjoy each other’s company. Somehow that vital information never made it to the appropriate channels and we failed to seat your group where you could enjoy yourself properly and alert our train’s staff that they should expect a particularly vibrant group.

“We were insensitive when we asked you to depart our train by marching you down the aisle past all the other passengers. While that was the safest route for disembarking, it showed a lack of sensitivity on our part that I did not fully conceive of until you explained the humiliation of the experience and how it impacted you and your fellow Book Club members.

“We also erred by placing an inaccurate post on our Facebook site that was not reflective of what actually occurred. In the haste to respond to criticism and news inquires, we made a bad situation worse by rushing to answer questions on social media. We quickly removed the inaccurate post, but the harm was done by our erroneous post.

“In summary, we were accurately insensitive to you and the members of the Book Club. Please accept my apologies for our many mistakes and failures. We pride ourselves our hospitality and our desire to please our guests on the Napa Valley Wine Train. In this instance, we failed in every measure of the meaning of good service, respect and hospitality.

“I appreciate your recommendation that our staff, which I believe to be among the best, could use additional cultural diversity and sensitivity training. I pledge to make sure that occurs and I plan to participate myself.

“As I offered in my conversation with you today, please accept my personal apologies for your experience and the experience of the Book Club members. I would like to invite you and other members to return plus 39 other guests (you can fill an entire car of 50) as my personal guests in a reserved car where you can enjoy yourselves as loudly as you desire.

“I want to conclude again by offering my apologies for your terrible experience.”