BEST Hard CORE Blender on the Central Coast

There IS a Macys in the Santa Maria Town Center mall. That’s one less challenge for moving to Orcutt. Santa Maria and Orcutt are the center of Santa Barbara wine country hinterlands. You can think of Orcutt as your last chance to find vinous shelter in rolling hills not completely overrun with vineyards. Forget about Buellton, Los Olivos, Santa Ynez and Solvang which long ago went Hollywood. Lompoc? Beyond the wine ghetto there’s Vandenberg AFB aka the western Cape Canaveral, and the Federal Correctional Institution. Charming. Orcutt and Santa Maria, however, still qualify as bona fide unpolished jewels in the crown of California’s loveliest region – the Central Coast. This IS the wine road less traveled. And David Corey who with Beck Corey is co-founder of CORE Wine Companyis a multi-generational homegrown resident who likes it enough to return from Kansas State and build a life here.

say yes to Orcutt?

Let’s blow through the background quickly because his current life is almost as interesting [ed. I don’t care who you are that’s funny]. He studied entymology in college (hard-core – aha! – bioscience) mastering the control of bugs and pests with other bugs and pests, without neglecting the prudent use of chemicals. He returned to the gargantuan farmlands of Santa Maria quickly becoming a guy in demand. Vineyard managers came on board and he ended up consulting to many in the Central Coast’s largest co-op wine production facility. He “discovered” a vineyard at 3200 foot elevation, leased it for the next quarter century, convinced Becky to stop working as head marketer for one of the regions largest wineries and to join him in their new enterprise named CORE. The first release was the 2001 Hard Core blend. David and Becky honeymooned in Southern France where they learned to love the wines blending Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre – which he refers to as GSM. Coincidentally, Mr. and Mrs. tBoW were discovering the Languedoc in 2000 and were also impressed with this poorly regarded region and the improving quality of wines tasted there. We were also impressed as were the Coreys – coincidentally – with the value of these wines.

Flash forward to 2005 when tBoW coordinated a wine dinner at a local golf club. We charged the club members big bucks to taste wines made by and in close proximity with “celebrity” winemakers from the Land of Sideways [ed. Sideways was released in 2004 putting Santa Rita Hills and our heroes on the radar] with the proceeds going to the local Boys & Girls Club. The lineup we pulled together included Kris Curran (Sea Smoke, Curran Wines), Wes Hagan (Clos Pepe), David Corey, and Peter Cargasacchi (Cargasacchi, Point Concepcion) who were widely unknown in 2005 but considerably better known today. Of all those winemakers then under-the-radar, David Corey remains the most under-the-radar winemaker and label today. tBoW did not understand what David was doing then. He was blending all his wines instead of putting out single varietals. He kept the wines in oak for years – not months. And he did not make one single Pinot Noir! His wines were not big and fruit forward like so many from Santa Rita Hills. He was U-N-U-S-U-A-L. Maybe even a zealot.

Having tasted his wines the last weekend in 2011 I can see we were right to include David in that 2005 high-achieving group of future wine stars. He is a zealot and a visionary. He has stuck to his preference for blended Rhone style wines despite relentless pressure to “go big and fruity”. Based on how well his older wines showed he has grown into an outstanding winemaker who is all about terroir and technique in the cellar. Here are the notes. Look for his wines. All prices are online although if buying a mixed case you may be able to get best pricing in the tasting room, as well as otherwise hard-to-find selections.

First we tasted two white wines.

2007 CORE Santa Barbara County White Wine $18: 70% Grenache Blanc, 29% Rousanne, 7% Marsanne. Tannic shows but does not detract from the wine which conjures Graham crackers. We bought some. 14.5%

2007 B CORE: 75% Rousanne, 25% Marsanne. Not yet released because he kept it in oak for 37 months. This wine is tannic and not in balance…yet. We prefer the prior blend. He uses “newer” and older barrels, nothing brand new. This allows him to control the nuance. Why does he use oak when so many biodynamic sustainable green folks are shying away? Oak gives the wine character he says. He fine tunes his wines carefully withholding nutrients and other ingredients. He eschews chlorine at all times and is careful about air-blasting bottles before the corks go in. He despises screw tops and any form of sealing the bottle other than cork. He prefers to use really high-end corks although he limits the expense to his highest-end wines.

On to the reds. CORE has three principle lines based on a combination of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre: (1) CORE GSM which uses fruit from vineyards other than Alta Mesa, (2) Elevation Sensation which is all Alta Mesa fruit, and (3) Hard Core which can include non-GSM varietals such as Cabernet Sauvignon. Given his extended barrel aging program the most recent release for these wines is 2007, 2008 or 2009.

2001 CORE 541 GSM
(no longer available unless you find it online): 50% Mourvedre, 40% Grenache, 10% Syrah. Still fresh. Great balance. Delicious. Medium weight, clarity of color and flavors. He wants to avoid a “primary” wine which, in his terms, is a fruit forward style. This is the first wine he made under the CORE label and it is showing very well at 10 years. Would have bought if he had it for sale.

2002 CORE 352 GSM
$25: Now you get the number scheme; 30% Mourvedre, 50% Grenache, 20% Syrah. The Grenache and Mourvedre come from the ~18 acre Alta Mesa Vineyard which is planted almost half and half to each varietal. He had a few of these in the tasting room. Consider what he has to say about his blending philosophy. “Blended wines in the New World are generally made from the juice that didn’t make the first cut. I select my best juice to blend in my wines.” This wine has plenty of fruit but is also balanced with tannic acid and influence of the more severe high altitude environment. Like the 2001 this wine is still on the ascent. It may be close to its apex but is still improving. All his wines are above 14% but none were alcoholic.

2005 CORE Alta Mesa Vineyard Santa Barbara County Grenache $28: This wine is ripe and balanced. Mrs. tBoW thinks it would be yummy with duck. Biggest of the wines we tasted. Big alcohol balances with right fruit. He is one of the few guys who seems consistently able to do this in the region. Maybe the state.

2008 CORE Santa Barbara Grenache $20: Sublime. Almost delicate and still muscular. Mature. Color is brick red. Nose is like a flower bed. Has 15% Syrah. David likens it to Spanish style Grenache which is dustier and more refined than French styles. A tBoW favorite. Making us re-think the alcohol issue as a general rule. 14.9%

2002 Elevation Sensation Alta Mesa Vineyard $37: Half and half Mouvedre and Grenache. Very much alive. Yummy. This is classic Old World style. It would be hard to pick it out of an Old World lineup from the Languedoc except that it would probably be the favorite among blind tasters.

2003 Elevation Sensation Alta Mesa Vineyard $34: Blended as above with 2% Syrah. Outstanding. Every wine is tasting great. Rich red color. No we are not spitting. This is a young wine that has further to go than the older CORE GSM wines. He was right about the Alta Mesa vineyard. We are confident each of his vineyard decisions has been on the money. When somebody finds out who lets the world know…what will become of Orcutt?

2007 Elevation Sensation Alta Mesa Vineyard
$38: The first wine with a purple robe. Wow. Here is the power. You have to age these wines. A keeper, but they all seem to be.

2007 Hard Core $24: 37% Mourvèdre, 33% Cabernet, 26% Syrah and 4% Grenache. This wine caught the attention of quite a few writers. Everyone I read gave it 90 points and up. David understands the importance of “points” on boosting sales. But we are telling you something different…his wines age very well. Jeb Dunnuck who publishes the Rhone Report and who David respects as a wine critic and writer said about this wine “…a serious wine with deep, rich aromas of black cherry, earth, subtle smoked meats and hints of coffee grinds. The palate is medium bodied with rich, layered fruit, vibrant acidity and a moderately tannic, long finish. I’m a fan, and the wine’s purity and balanced character make it enjoyable to drink, even at this young stage.”

David Corey is making exceptional wines that remain so far under the radar you need sonar to catch the vibe. We have scratched the surface with these comments. He has several other labels his in-laws talked him into that you can find at the website. He plays with Bordeaux blends and other exotic grapes under those labels. He also has a Mister Mourved label and his priciest release the Cuvee Fletcher.

The drive to Orcutt is worth making if you live in SoCal or happen to be touring wine country. You get to spend time with a very thoughtful man who is without pretensions and holds interests outside wine. If you cannot make the drive you might try ordering his wines. Food friendly and perfect for summer steaks Santa Maria style.

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