I often reflect that the best luxury goods come with a goût de terroir – it is the ultimate protector of identity. After all, Château Cheval Blanc cannot be made in, say, the Barossa or Napa Valleys; nor can Havana cigars come from anywhere other than the factories of the Cuban capital, where they are blended and rolled with tobacco grown in the Vuelta Abajo.
And with the shooting season upon us, and as I begin the research into my Beretta book, I reflect that this is also true of the shooting world. The town of Gardone Val Trompia in the Brescia province of Italy is home to literally dozens of gun-makers and associated businesses. Beretta may be the best known, but this picturesque town, with its dramatic mountains, has as much of a history as a locus classicus of human excellence (alloyed with naturally occurring raw materials) as any French vineyard.
The people of the Val Trompia area were extracting and working with iron ore as far back as the Dark Ages, long before the invention of the firearm and, as such, the gun is as much a cultural object as it is a cunningly wrought machine. Happily for me, the culture of shooting has a much richer sartorial code than winemaking and even cigar smoking.
Even though I do not drink, I am sometimes called upon to visit a vineyard, and I find that a single-button, violently checked, tweed sports coat worn with a cravat and a pair of flannels or cavalry twills gives just the right impression of a Frenchman trying to look like an Englishman. Similarly, in Havana, in the absence of any codification of clothing, I have had to come up with a smoking ensemble comprising brightly coloured guayabera, contrasting and equally bright linen trousers with a pair of polarised sunglasses from Meyrowitz and either a panama hat or linen cap.
With shooting, however, there is a rich palette of clothing on which to draw. I am, of course, familiar with the English gear, but I am always learning – viz my observation earlier this year that, according to one source, black shooting shoes are posher than brown.
But my eyes are being opened to a wider pan-European sartorial heritage: for instance, I am looking forward to trying out that fabled French fortified citadel for the foot that is La Chasse from JM Weston. And thanks to my inculcation into the Italian way of shooting, I have also been introduced to some fairly innovative – at least for me – shooting garments, such as the Beretta Maremanna, a multi-pocket coat in moleskin.
And I sense that this is just the beginning of a voyage into uncharted sartorial seas. The other day, for example, I came across a fabulous photograph of Franco Beretta’s great uncle in tweed knickerbockers, a bandolier slung around his waist, his head topped with a broad-brimmed hat that had the suggestion of a Stetson about it, and a flamboyant neckerchief fluttering rakishly from an open-necked shirt. It is a great look – part Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,part The Shooting Party – but not one I am quite confident enough to inflict upon any host kind enough to invite me to shoot… at least not this coming season.