1865-1871: Becoming a Player
We cannot say for certain when David Fulton sold his first commercial wine. However, it had to have occurred prior to his being granted a federal permit dated May 1865. The permit allowed Fulton to make and sell brandy. He paid the sum of $5.83 in excise tax for the permit. Given the low consecutive number of the document, this may be considered one of earliest such licenses issued to a Napa Valley vintner. Brandy was often used in the early years as an addition to protect wine left unsold and exposed to the elements. With this in mind, commercial wine may well have been made at his cellar the two or three years prior.
It’s not known whether Fulton processed grapes harvested from other farmers or even those from his first vineyard behind the Saddlery.
Documents found in the family strong box reveal two 1868 invoices for the sale of wine to “San Francisco Wine Merchants.” One sale was for “17 pipes (casks) of white wine” totaling approximately 2,200 gallons of wine. The other sale took place three months later in which he sold “13 pipes of wine spirits”, i.e.1,600 gallons of brandy. These sales were on course with the date of his first plantings, and they support the contention that he was a strong player among Napa cellar owners in the Mid 1860′s.
On August 7, 1869, Fulton was appointed to a committee of seven vintners at a California Agriculture Convention.
The purpose of the committee was to draft a mission statement and form the area’s first viticulture organization. Four of the seven vintners were from Sonoma. The other three were from Napa which included General Keyes, John Lockwood and David Fulton. Subsequently, the organization, born at the convention, was named the Sonoma, Napa, Solano Grape Growers Association (SNSGGA). When the seven returned to the convention floor with their mission statement and organizational structure in hand, their report was approved, the organization formed, and Board members were elected. A majority of these turned out to be residents of Sonoma County. The bylaws called for regularly scheduled meetings to be held solely in Sonoma. SNSGGA preceded by 6 years the formation of what was to become the widely known St. Helena Viticultural Club. Through the next decade or two, minutes of SHVC were often printed in whole as part of newspaper columns and wine magazine articles. It was often said that the reason for starting the St. Helena organization was to provide a forum for more locally-oriented issues. Given the structure of SNSGGA, it is likely the new organization was formed not only for Napa vintners to exercise greater control in putting forth their own interests but also to take control of meeting agendas out of the hands of their rivals to the west.
Besides viticulture David Fulton had other endeavors: businessman, benefactor, trustee, inventor and town visionary. In 1870, utilizing skills as a blacksmith and the knowledge gained as owner of the town saddlery, he invented the Fulton Plow. Plows were used to carefully loosen soil around compacted vines. Fulton’s was affectionately described as the “One-Horse Plow”. Until his invention vineyard rows had to be planted 12 feet apart to make room for two horses harnessed side by side. With one horse rows could be planted 8 feet apart allowing the planting of more vines per acre. Also, the plow was designed to trail at an angle behind the horse but near the vines. The plow handle and horse strapping were designed in such a manner not to place an undue torque or twist on the rear end of the horse.
A year later (1871) and joined by three others, Fulton and his partners entered into an agreement with John York to build a dam down stream from a creek running through John York’s property. York creek runs behind the present day Beringer Brothers Winery. As recorded in the Napa County Book of Deeds, Fulton acquired all of John York’s “…rights, title and interests in the water rights…beginning at a point York takes water from a ditch…[leading] to the reservoir…” The four partners were Hudson, Krug, Hastie and Fulton. Fulton’s share in the digging of the reservoir was $44, and he paid an additional $300 for a 99-year lease for his York’s water rights, including entering onto York’s property to make necessary repairs when needed to guarantee the free flow of water. The reservoir was originally constructed to hold 100,000 gallons of water. It became the town’s water company six years after Fulton’s death. To widen the scope of the original agreement, the four signatories were joined in 1877 by seven others to form a corporation to supply water to the town of St. Helena. Mary Fulton’s name appears on the original corporation document, but on the final allocation of water to the now eleven parties, Mary Fulton’s name mysteriously disappeared and was replaced by another St. Helena resident’s name.