Before recently moving to a new facility, Core Wine was based for years at Central Coast Wine Services, where most barrels are neatly stacked in rows, the cement floors are clear of debris, and there’s a laboratory-like air about the scene. But then you’d come upon the gated corner claimed by Core’s owner David Corey, where you’d find rock music blaring, a white board scrawled over with the pH levels at harvest, a Guinness dart board hanging on the fence, hot plates scattered about, spare pairs of jeans and boots on the floor, a box of Famous Amos cookies tossed aside, and a bag full of oak balls beside an overturned barrel. One afternoon last year, after sipping a bit of his B-Core (a marsanne-rousanne blend), swishing barrel tastes of his Elevation Sensation (a grenache-mourvedre blend), and sampling bottlings of his Turchi, Kuyam, and C3 series, it wasn’t a big surprise to hear this mad scientist of wine country explain with a snicker, “I never know how it’s going to turn out.”
I first learned about Core Wine about six years ago due to my fascination with the Cuyama Valley, the moonscape of a high desert in northeastern Santa Barbara County where most the winery’s grapes come from. Though grapes had been made into wine there since the early 1980s, Corey brought creative flair to the region, and was increasingly renowned for taking unproven varietals and delivering wines worth slurping. “I always thought the fruit there was very unique, more unique than any sites I had worked with,” said Corey, who’d previously worked with such vineyards as Beckmen, White Hawk, and Stolpman. “It develops flavors in a slow, slow way. It doesn’t go backward like it can in some cooler climates.”
Before Corey ever stepped foot in Cuyama, he’d seen his share of agriculture due to degrees from San Jose State and Kansas State and working other crops in the Salinas and Central valleys. But in 1997 Corey followed his family roots back to the Santa Maria area — his two boys now qualify as seventh-generation residents — for a job with Kendall-Jackson. “I wanted to work with something that was perennial and you didn’t have to stoop over it,” said Corey of his move away from row crops and orchards.
After a few years with K-J, Corey founded Vital Vines, the consulting company that led him to the Cuyama Valley. There, on the Santa Barbara Highlands Vineyard — which was then known as Barnwood and is still owned by Laetitia Winery in Arroyo Grande — Corey began “cherry picking the blocks that looked best,” and ended up leasing some to farm himself, particularly the blufftop Alta Mesa area that overlooks the Cuyama River and is now planted in grenache and mourvedre. In time, he would work with almost every grape imaginable out in Cuyama, from mourvedre and grenache to malbec, cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, merlot, syrah, cisnault, counoise, rousanne, grenache blanc, petit sirah, and tempranillo. Because he wasn’t able to spend enough time out there, Corey now just buys the grapes rather than farming them, but remains in line with his guiding philosophy, which is to “make a wine that could be $45 but that I sell for $25.”
By September 2009, Corey and his wife Becky — who studied ag marketing at Cal Poly and worked for two years at Laetitia and nine years at Byron Winery — had dropped everything else to focus on Core Wines exclusively. A big part of that shift was establishing their very own tasting room in Old Orcutt, a tight little community south of Santa Maria with a growing foodie feeling. During a visit nearly a year ago, Becky was pouring seven reds and three whites — their two lists are broken down into blends and single varietals — but explained that the offerings always change. “It depends on if I’m here or if Dave’s here,” she laughed. “Or what we had for breakfast!”
In 2010, aside from wading through one of the more wacky harvests on record, they also found a new home for the winery in Vineyard Park, and now have 3,300 square feet of space to use for their mad science, which is bound to include live music and on-site tasting as well. On top of that, the Coreys welcomed their third son into the world this past October. So in addition to their Cuvee Nolan and Cuvee Fletcher — both Bordeaux blends under the Kuyam label — Core fans are expecting to try out the Cuvee Kellen sometime very soon. It won’t disappoint.
To taste one of David Corey’s many wines, visit the Core Wine Company tasting room at 145 South Gray Street, Suite 103, in Old Town Orcutt. Call (805) 937-1600 or see corewine.com.