Part II saw Deb and Diane head to the "Other Napa Valley" for a day of clays shooting and wine tasting. Their first stop found them in a waterfront outpost that seemed like a covert commando training ground. Afterwards, they hit a few wineries where Deb pulls out all the stops on what to drink and what to spit.
In part III, Deb and Diane visit Silicon Valley's sporting-clays Mecca, and then visit tiny wineries off the beaten path.
Now in Part IV, Deb takes you to a sporting-clays course you'll never find on your GPS, followed by lunch at the spectacular Bistro Jeanty in Napa Valley.
It was about 10:00 AM, and the triple espresso I gulped for breakfast was starting to work its magic. I was back in Diane's apartment, alone and looking through her kitchen window at the rooftops and palm trees of San Francisco's Marina District.
Diane was at a business meeting. In her absence, my Caesar Guerini started talking to me from the across the apartment.
The Call to Black Point
I had already earmarked the Black Point Sports Club in Petaluma. It offers both wing and clays shooting, and would take me about an hour to reach. I called them to see if I could shoot a round of sporting clays.
A man answered the phone. He said there was no problem and I should come on over.
In the rental Chevy, I entered the address of Black Point in my GPS, but the system didn't recognize it. After a few tries with no results, I called Black Point again. The same man answered the phone, and said you can't find the road on a GPS.
He gave me directions, with his final instruction, "Take a right on Reclamation Road."
Something about his parting words evoked a Quentin Tarantino movie. But then I thought, heck it was on the way to Napa Valley so how spooky could it really get? After all, Napa is a hive of gentrification. The worst thing that could happen would probably involve goat cheese. I threw the car in drive.
Across the Golden Gate
It was a quick sprint from Diane's apartment to the Golden Gate Bridge. Heading north on 101, there was a postcard-perfect view...Alcatraz, Sausalito, the Marin Headlands, a few container ships steaming up San Francisco Bay. I looked back to steal a glance at the city, and for that split second I could've been on the Mediterranean.
I cruised for about 45 miles, first through the rolling hills of Marin then the flatlands that skirted San Pablo Bay. The radio was tuned to KFOG. Classic rock is almost inseparable from the city of the Summer of Love. On a clear day at 70 mph, it's easy to slip into a reverie of the youth, rebellion and music that changed the world.
Before I knew it, route 121 came up on the right and now I was in the farmlands of San Pablo Bay. I stayed in the right lane, watching for signs for Reclamation Road. It came up fast, and I cranked the steering wheel to the right. The surface was rough. I maintained a slow pace, following signs that led to Black Point. Gun shots grew louder.
I crossed railroad tracks and found myself on a long straightaway that cut a swathe between harvested fields busy with hunters and their dogs.
The Potato Tree
Finally, the place came into view: beyond the gravel parking lot stood a Porta-Potty front and center; a leaf-bearing tree with the proportions of a sprouting potato; and a shed-like clubhouse with smoke rising from the black chimney. Off to the side was a dusty, old pick-up truck and stacks of crates for packing fruits and vegetables. Looking through the passenger window I could see a few ramshackle sporting clays stations that seemed designed long ago by Salvador Dali.
Sitting in the car, the mood was more like being down in the holler than at the gateway to Napa Valley. With the motor still running, I was tempted to put it into reverse and just get the hell out of there. But I mustered up my courage, got my gear from the trunk and walked toward the clubhouse.
Inside, the hall-like space was dark, without people, and the old wall paneling gave it an air of someplace long forgotten. In the back I noticed an office with a counter. I slowly walked to it, but it was also unattended. It only took a moment before an elderly woman appeared through a door.
A Buck Fifty
I asked about the sporting clays course, and yes it was open. The price was $39 for 50 targets, including the mandatory steel shot. I enquired about a cart and she said the course only had eight stations. Okay, I figured, since I'm already here...
I gave her my credit card. Cash only, she said. I dug into my pocket and discovered that I only had $41.55. As I gave her the $41, I explained that I really didn't have enough left over to tip the trapper. She gave me a sour look, then said "I'll get my grandson."
A kid of about 12 came out, looking like an all-American farm boy replete with a buzz cut probably done by his mom. I introduced myself and we shook hands. I told him that I was short on cash and I could only tip him $1.50.
"That'll buy me a soda and bag of potato chips," he said in a low, soft voice. The kid was a good sport and we walked over to station one chit-chatting along the way.
Like the other stations that followed, the targets were close, sluggish and not particularly challenging -- especially for my 20-gauge. Each station seemed to be hand-made from spare parts lying around the farm.
Of the eight stations, it turned out about half didn't work -- no surprise, really. The kid would give a brief description of the upcoming presentation, and when the targets didn't materialize he simply suggested we move on to the next one. He did a fine job of covering his embarrassment and acting professionally.
When Your Head Becomes the Target
One station, though, gave me a nasty clunk on the head. It was a slow, outgoing, tower shot coming from behind. It would take a while before you could see the bird and establish the shot. In retrospect, the odds were against me on this one. With so many others not working, we doubled the number of shots per station. The more targets thrown from this overhead, the more likely that one of them would come out broken and just smash me in the back of the head. Fortunately, my hat prevented any bloodshed. The poor kid was mortified. I told him it was no problem and we finished out the 50 rounds.
I gave him the $1.50, he thanked me and ambled back to the club house where a soda and a bag of potato chips would hopefully turn his day around.
I had my own plans, though, for turning around the day -- and they involved French food and fine wine.
About 30 minutes later, I was in Yountville. It has a quirky downtown, more like a strip mall than the historic town squares of Sonoma, Napa and Healdsburg.
My luck began to change immediately. I found a parking spot in front of a bank and withdrew a couple of hundred dollars from the ATM. I walked the one block to the best French restaurant in Napa Valley, Bistro Jeanty. (Yes, I think it's even better than the French Laundry.) My luck still riding, there was one stool open at the counter in the otherwise crowded restaurant.
The beauty of Bistro Jeanty is that it seamlessly combines the casual atmosphere of a bona fide bistro with three-star service and food. The capable servers all wear starched white shirts and long white aprons and convey an esprit de corps that completely belies the traditional preparation of its magnificent food.
It's one of the few restaurants you'll visit where the level of competency is reflected in the patrons. Everywhere I looked were "professional eaters" -- people who loved to eat in great restaurants simply because of the food. If you're a foodie like me, it's one of those places where you immediately feel at home.
The waiter behind the counter was a tall, handsome guy -- jovial without that saccharine intimacy. I was starving and went for the entrecôte frite. For us big, hungry Americans that translates into a juicy rib-eye steak with béarnaise sauce and a side of fries. I ordered a glass of 2005 Napa Valley Por Que No? Zinfandel.
Good Wine and French Butter
The basket of rolls with butter, and the wine, came fast. You broke through satisfying chewy crust to reach the buttery, fluffy inside. Slathered with room-temperature French butter and washed down with the wine, the stage was set for an incredibly rich lunch. After a couple of rolls and a glass of wine I was all aglow. I ordered a second glass in preparation for the entreé.
After my first bite, I knew it was the best steak and fries I'd ever eaten. The meat was cooked to a perfect medium rare, the béarnaise sauce elevated the beef into a heavenly gift, and the shoestring fries were hot, crisp and salty. For dessert there was Tarte Tatin, which is a warm caramelized apple tart with creme fraiche. Accompanied by a cup of fresh, dark coffee I figured this meal was the second-best way to drop dead of a heart attack.
On my way out, I said "bonjour" to the young hostess. I pushed open the door and the the same warm Napa sun that raised the sugar in the grapes bathed my face.
For the first installment of Deb's series, please go to http://www.shotgunlife.com/places_to_shoot_3.html. The second installment can be found at http://www.shotgunlife.com/breaking-clays-in-the-other-napa-valley.html. For the third installment, visit http://www.shotgunlife.com/Places-to-Shoot/why-i-shot-coyote-valley-with-a-28-gauge.html.