The night before our sporting clays outing we dined lavishly in San Francisco's Waterbar restaurant. The following morning we paid dearly for our excess.
While I didn't regret a moment of our wonderful evening, I certainly appreciated that my shotgun of choice for sporting clays would be a 28-gauge. In fact, the reason I packed my 28-gauge barrels on my combo Caesar Guerini Magnus is that I know what happens when you hit the town with Karl R.
My trip to San Francisco was a perfect excuse for Karl to nail down his coveted reservations at Waterbar. Hugs and kisses all around as Diane and I met him in the extravagant raw bar -- with the first round of dry martinis arriving in quick order.
Despite the brick and steel décor, the place felt warm and elegant. The wealthy and beautiful laughed it up in the golden champagne glow of the indirect lighting and the 19-foot high aquarium that was a showcase of perpetual motion.
The Duckhorn Goes Down Easy
The surprise of the evening turned out to be our table. It presented a stunning view of San Francisco Bay and the lit spans of the Bay Bridge above, and definitely called for another round of martinis.
Our Ethiopian waitress infused her recital of the specials with theatrical flair. We considered the menu with great deliberation (the most serious pause in the evening) before ordering, and then entertained our way through dinner with two bottles of the wonderfully lubricating 2007 Duckhorn Sauvignon Blanc. Top it all off with a single-malt scotch (or two) and it's pretty easy to predict how dreadful you'll feel the next morning.
Fortunately, we had the discipline to set the alarm clocks before going to bed. I moved like an old junker trying to start on a frigid morning. But I did get going. Coffee, juice, and then we were in Diane's MX-5 roadster, the top down, cruising south on 101 under an eggshell blue sky.
Diane kept a stoic course, assuming she felt as hungover as she looked. What we really needed was a hearty breakfast, and I knew just the spot.
Into the Space Ship
Our detour was the University Avenue exit. The industrial squalor of 101 transformed into 21st century office mecca. The new redevelopment of East Palo Alto had resurrected the once-sleepy African-American village into a high-tech capitalist space ship. That immediately led onto University Avenue where the 1940s estates seemed lifted out of a Hepburn-Grant classic.
Downtown Palo Alto stood in the shadow of Stanford University at the opposite end of the avenue. It made perfect sense that the modest boulevard of forward-thinking shops and outdoor cafés had a quaint little sister city in France
We parked in the garage on Cowper Street, across from the Il Fornaio restaurant. Eyeballing the people around us, I got the sense that if there were such a thing as a Geiger counter for IQ, it would be pegged to full alert.
Inside, Il Fornaio was a cool Italian villa with an open kitchen aromatic of the wood-burning oven. We were shown to a petite table against the wall. Next to us, one of the couples at the table of four was presenting a laptop slide show of their recent trip to Africa.
A busboy set down herbal olive oil and a basket of fresh, crusty Italian breads. Rich Italian was working its magic. I ordered the Omelette Alla Contadina (red onions and bacon) while Diane demurred and went for the Crespelle Alla Crema Acida (thin pancake with fresh strawberries and yogurt).
I was willing to bet breakfast that there wasn't another hungover soul in the restaurant. No squandered brain cells here. In the parlance of Silicon Valley, every centimeter of white matter had been "monetized."
The rustic breakfast gradually opened the door to the rest of humanity. "Come on, let's go shooting," I told Diane. She was ready.
We continued south on 101 and when we left the freeway in Morgan Hill a welcome silence complemented the soft, undulating hills in the distance. Fawn-colored and sensuous, the hills bounded pastures devoid of livestock.
The spacious parking lot of Coyote Valley was nearly full, but we got lucky.
Sporting Clays Silicon-Valley Style
The weathered, wood club house sits on a hill, giving the impression that it's larger than actual size. You realize how cramped it gets once inside. The global community of Silicon Valley's scientists and technicians all seemed crammed in front of the counter. For people who thrive on logic, there was pandemonium from groups of new shooters speaking God knows how many languages.
Even though the facility offered skeet and trap, sporting clays was the cause célèbre. I never considered myself a shooting snob, but at the same time I found it daunting that the place would be ring-a-ding with newbies on their own.
As we waited our turn, I went through the safety procedures with Diane: always keep the shotgun pointed down range, walk with the shotgun cracked open, don't load it until you're on the station and ready to shoot, and don't put your finger on the trigger until the shotgun is mounted. I had brought extra eye and ear protection for her. She put them on along with her SF Giants ball cap. She was set.
Clubbing Gophers With a 20-Gauge
Finally, we signed in. I rented the last 20-gauge for her. It was a Browning that looked like it had been used to club gophers. But as a brand new shooter, Diane was appreciative that she didn't have to worry about scratching the darn thing.
We claimed one of the few remaining carts. It lurched forward and we were on our way. The first station was jammed and so we skipped it in favor of the second station. As it turned out, that's the way we would navigate the 16-station course -- hop-scotching around the multitudes.
The course was fully automated, taking the heat off Diane about shooting with a strange trapper. For the same reason, I also suggested we not keep score.
I helped Diane with some basic lessons, suggesting for the time being that she use pre-mount instead of low-gun.
The early stations were meatball shots with small windows between the shrub borders -- except for one slow, overhead incomer that dared you to break it.
As we progressed along the course, the growing degree of difficulty came from pitting you against the terrain instead of the trap machines. You didn't necessarily drop targets because of their speed.
The hills were effectively used to throw a run-of-the-mill out-goer that quickly dipped below your muzzle into a ravine. A far quartering crosser that called for a long lead ran across a succession of low mounds -- completely screwing up your eyeballs. A lollipop of an incomer would suddenly appear over a hill then hook toward low-hanging branches -- turning a deceptively easy target into a rushed shot.
At station seven, the course opened to handsome panoramas. Gnarled oak trees that were muddled together in the early part of the course now posed solitary against the blonde hills and radiant sky. A couple of stations also gave us vista points of grazing cows below. With the gunfire, you were immersed for a moment in a dreamy Old West.
We circled back to the club house, checked out and hit the road.
By now, Dianne was really into the shooting. She wanted to know more about the finer points of leads, low-gun mounts and concentration. As she drove up 680 to the wineries, we talked about sporting clays.
After leaving the highway, we took lovely, shady back roads through farms, ranches and vineyards.
Where You From?
The small red building of Chouinard Vineyards and Winery looked like a barn for aging barrels. The tasting room was rustic and almost cozy. We engaged in a little chit-chat with the pourer (where you from? etc.) before she started tipping the bottles of the premium red tasting.
They described the 2001 Alicante Bouschet as "inky," which was pretty accurate considering the thin, lackluster taste. According to my notes, the 2002 Zinfandel came across as flat and amateurish. Last up was the 2002 Alicante Bouschet. After a couple of sips, bitter and dry came to mind.
Wine tasting can be like wingshooting. You set out with the best intentions to have some fun and bag a few birds. Even if you don't get the birds, at least you're outdoors, in a beautiful place, doing what you enjoy.
So far, we hadn't bagged any birds, but we were having a good time in a beautiful part of Northern California. Still, we remained hopeful that the next and final winery of the day would be a winner.
Finally, the Cabiovese
The entrance to Rodrigue Molyneaux winery is off to the side of the small building. You enter through an arbor and a gravel path takes you to an outdoor bar with a lattice cover. A few viticulture-loving locals were catching up with the proprietress while other visitors were simply hanging out enjoying their wine.
Again, we went for the premium red pour. The 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon was stellar. The deep, rich flavor belied it's relatively young age. In another two or three years, it could easily challenge the Napa greats. That was followed by their Basca Italian blend of Barbera, Cabernet Sauvignon and Sangiovese. It's a non-vintage using 2004-2006 grapes aged for two years. Still, it came across as library classic. Zin fans would love it. The third tasting in the flight was called Cabiovese. It was also a non-vintage from a blend of 2004-2006 Sangiovese and Cabernet Sauvignon aged for two years. I have to say it was the best wine of the trip. It was light, with a deceptive full-bodied finish.
As a sundowner breeze whispered through the vineyards, Diane and I used the Cabiovese to toast an entertaining day of food, sporting clays and wine.
For Part 1, please see http://www.shotgunlife.com/places_to_shoot_3.html For Part 2, visit http://www.shotgunlife.com/breaking-clays-in-the-other-napa-valley.html
Deborah K. McKown is the editor of Shotgun Life.
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