Cornell Winery is named after the historic city of Cornell, CA. Cornell is located just 5 minutes from the 101/Kanan interchange in Agoura Hills in the Santa Monica Mountains.
The town of Cornell gets its name from an act of kindness by a great man on the east coast, Ezra Cornell (Founder of Cornell University). Back in the late 1800's, a group of individuals, who probably called NY home at some point, sent a wire to Ezra asking for help as they wanted to develop a one-room school house for the local families. Ezra sent out a box of books and syllabus for the students. With gratitude, they named their town Cornell, CA.
The Old Place restaurant next door was once Hank's Country Store and served as the official post office for the town of Cornell. The Old Place honors this bit of history by keeping the old sorting table from the post office, complete with the residents’ names and uses it as a center point in a private dining room known as the Mail Room.
As for Cornell Winery, the story really starts with a friendship between Tim Skogstrom and the family that owns the Old Place, the building that we are located in, and the building next door, which is a business called Charme d'antan (French architectural design studio). Back in 2006, Tom Runyon, the patriarch of the family, his wife Barbara, and son Morgan introduced me to their building, which would become Cornell Winery. The plan has taken a few twists and turns, but for the most part, what we set out to do is just what we are doing - celebrating, drinking and selling locally produced wines.
In order to do the story justice, I need to pay tribute to a true legend, Tom Runyon. Tom started the Old Place back in 1970, and combined with the rich texture and personalities of its owners and patrons, the restaurant was an instant hit. Mind you, the area was sparsely populated back in 1970, so the eccentric and unruly crowd may not have served today's customers in the same way. Shucks, the reputation of the restaurant was “no frills and limit your thrills”, or you would be kicked out on your ear. Tom and Barbara ran a tight ship, and they did it their way. After all, I don't think it was the money that motivated them; it was more of a clubhouse where Steve McQueen, Ali MacGraw, Jason Robards, Sam Peckinpah, Sam Elliott, Katherine Ross, Bob Dylan and a slew of other mega stars from that era would come every night, and Tom would start up the wood-fired grill.
Fast forward to 2006, I met with Tom, Morgan, and Barbara and shared an idea I had. After all, the building had not been used since it was completed in 1984, and the time had come! We all agreed on the concept; we signed the lease, and we were off to the races.
Cornell took about a year to complete, with the majority of the work going to the procurement of a liquor license. Some of the neighbors were skeptical and voiced some concerns that needed to be reviewed by a court. We made it through with a liquor license in hand, and we opened the doors in 2007. Back in 2007, everything was just getting started, Rosenthal opened on PCH in the parking lot of Beau Rivage, and Malibu Family Wines had just opened at Calamigos Ranch.
Cornell Winery is a tasting room. We no longer make wine but who knows, never say never. Our position is that of a guide, since we are the only place in the area that allows you to explore the majority of wines made in the mountains here. We also promote wines moving up the central coast as we feel that local is a few hours on the road. So, if we ever make a commercial, the tune will start or end with "All the wines along the way between Monterey and LA!"
We also represent some of the top artists in the area as we have more than 50 pieces of art on display and a myriad of crafty and unique treasures at every turn. We hope you find yourself on this side of town and set aside the time to explore the many offerings in Cornell, CA.
My name is Tim Skogstrom, and I started Cornell after more than 20 years in the wine business. I worked in the distribution part of the industry for Young's Market Company here in LA and then transitioned over to the winery side as a marketing and sales manager for Francis Coppola. After 10 years with Coppola, we grew into a household name and one of the most successful brands in the industry. Francis gave me important advice, and it has played a critical role in the success we have had here at Cornell. Francis is well recognized as one the best storytellers of our time, and having the opportunity to be so close to such an incredibly talented individual, well, some things certainly stuck.
One thing that Francis did in the wine business was to buy history. Francis bought Inglenook winery, which to most may not seem that impressive, but to those that know a little history, that purchase was one of the most important moves for the historical integrity of the California wine business. Founded in 1880, Inglenook was the first winery from California to win awards in Paris, long before Chateau Montelena or Stags Leap even existed. The property had been sold off in pieces to some of the most ruthless wine corporations, and the name was slapped on the worst wine made in the state.
Well, Francis has spent a fortune putting it all back together, starting with the 1975 purchase of the main vineyard and home of Gustave Niebaum, founder of Inglenook. He continued to buy neighboring properties and even set the mark for the most money ever paid for a piece of farm land. In 2011 Francis was able to purchase the brand name back for an undisclosed amount. He fired his winemaker, Scott McLeod, (who was just named winemaker of the year 6 months prior) and then his estate manager, Larry Stone (Master Sommelier and owner of the restaurant Rubicon in San Francisco) left. Francis then announced that he was hiring the 21-year veteran estate manager and winemaker from Chateau Margaux, Phillipe Bascaules. Chateau Margaux is recognized as one of the most prestigious French Chateaus and holds the title of First Growth. Google it; it's pretty important in the wine world.
I can talk about that part of my life forever since it really was a turning point for me as dreams and convictions were given a whole new meaning!
So, I signed the lease on 29975 Mulholland Hwy. in the beautiful town of Cornell, CA, and set out to open my own business. The place has all kinds of crazy history associated with it and a remarkable man at the center, Thomas Mercein Runyon. I honestly feel as though my meeting Tom at the time I did is the closest thing to destiny that will ever exist for me. Thank you, Morgan, and RIP, Tom Runyon!
From the beginning, I knew I wanted to simply create a legacy of my own in a similar way to that of Tom Runyon - becoming part of a community and being able to witness the changes that take place as the days go by all while helping tell the myriad of stories along the way. I knew that if I could pull it off, then I had won the lottery. I had become educated on what was going on locally and could see that these local winemakers really needed a voice in the marketplace, so being able to utilize my skills to help introduce their wines to the market was the plan. Oh yeah, I thought I was going to be the next big thing in wine making, but I quickly realized I was much better at being on the sales side of the business. Who knows though, I have lots of friends in the business, so maybe the timing was just off a bit. I know one thing, though, my bank account sure was!
Tom passed away in 2009, and after he was put to rest and the family was able to make decisions again. Tom's son Morgan and I devised a plan to re-open the Old Place with a bit of a twist. I came on board and ran the business for three years and am proud to say that the Old Place has become one of the top restaurants in Los Angeles, with lines out the door each time it is opened. The two businesses (the Old Place and Cornell Winery) feed off of each other, and our employees cannot wait to come to work!
I know, as a matter of fact, that this place just makes me feel good. I hope you come on by and let the place work its charms on you!