The family has owned the David Fulton vineyard and winery (which makes only petite sirah) since the first grapes were planted in 1860.
A FEW WEEKS ago, while driving back from Southern California, I found myself with a free afternoon in the Napa Valley. Remember those old TV game shows where the winner would get an empty shopping cart and a minute or two to run around a store and fill it? It felt a little like that. A couple of hours, hundreds of wineries … How to choose?
In past visits I have toured many of Napa’s founding wineries, some cult wineries and quite a few “you can’t get here from there” wineries. This time I would make just a single stop, preferably somewhere off the radar. Fortuitously, an email had recently arrived from the David Fulton Winery, a tiny producer in St. Helena. The phrase “old vine petite sirah” caught my attention, and I scheduled a visit.
Good call! The family has owned the David Fulton vineyard and winery since the first grapes were planted in 1860. That’s when David Fulton himself (a man of many skills, and the inventor of the Fulton plow) planted a few acres of mission grapes on land he’d purchased while operating a saddlery in St. Helena. A fascinating account of the original vineyard and winery’s founding is on the website www.davidfultonwinery.com.
I sat out on the patio and chatted with great-grandson Fulton Mather, who has renovated the winery and lives on the property. It was a splendidly sunny afternoon, with the wild mustard in full bloom and acres of petite sirah vines spread out below us. These had been planted in the early 1920s and today comprise the entire working vineyard.
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The winery makes only petite sirah, a few hundred cases each vintage, and sells them mostly through the tasting room and wine club. To supplement what would otherwise be an all-too-brief visit, they offer pours from equally tiny, neighboring producers (currently Calafia Cellars and Jana Harvey Wines).
Fulton and I tasted two vintages of his petite sirah — 2007 and 2009. Smooth and tannic, thickly endowed with mouth-coating flavors of blueberry syrup, the wines were exactly what one would hope for from old-vine, Napa Valley grapes. Even more memorable was the sense of time travel. It felt as though I were visiting a Napa winery from the distant past. There was no massive wine cave, no 10,000-square-foot mansion, no immaculate, over-tended rows of perfectly trained vines. Just a short stroll from downtown St. Helena, I had entered another world. To arrange a visit, call 707-967-0719.
Note: Though the original Robert Mondavi winery has passed into corporate hands, younger members of the Mondavi family remain quite active. Look for the I’M (Isabel Mondavi) wines, made by Rob Mondavi Jr., for especially good quality at a reasonable price.