Michael Perlis: A Little History Lesson on LA winemaking

My previous article about Los Angeles area winemaking discussed the special Wine Industry Collection at the Cal Poly Pomona library. Now, I am fastforwarding to today’s Los Angeles, with a visit to Cornell Winery and Tasting Room in Agoura.  www.cornellwinery.com

I had a great visit with them, but I have not had time to write up my notes, so I would like to begin with a recent email received from Tim Skogstrom of Cornell Winery and Tasting Room. The rest of this blog article is verbatim from Tim’s email. I will have a follow-up article in the near future describing our visit.

Tim’s email follows:


At Cornell Winery & Tasting Room we are delivering a unique experience to the wine enthusiast.  We offer an opportunity to taste through wines that are grown right here in our own back yard.  Los Angeles has a deep history with wine production so the local producers that are promoted at Cornell are simply following tradition.  Prior to prohibition there were more than 100 bonded wineries here in Los Angeles County and today there are only two, San Antonio Winery and Agua Dulce.  San Antonio was started in 1917 and was able to survive prohibition by making sacramental wine for churches in the area.  The other is Agua Dulce which located off of Sierra Hwy in Santa Clarita.  Both of these wineries are interesting to visit but downtown LA and the entrance into the high dessert may not seem like the most ideal spot for a true wine country experience.

With the valley floors filling up just after WWII the agricultural industry in LA began to diminish along with the production of wine.  Today there are more than 50 vineyards in the Santa Monica Mountains, not all are producing commercial wines, and the offerings will surprise the most experienced collectors.  We are excited to bring these wines to our customers and share the excitement for these wines that all of us at Cornell share.

San Gabriel Winery
Vineyards along Interstate 10
Just a great old shot from South Pasadena “My home town”

Another interesting note is that of wineries vs. vineyards.  When prohibition hit it successfully wiped out wineries as it classified three different categories and made all of them illegal, production, sales and consumption.  In the case of San Antonio the 1st amendment allowed for sacramental wine to be produced since it is prescribed in religious doctrine.  When prohibition was repealed, each county had to vote for the repeal of each category.  In Los Angeles we only repealed sales and consumption laws since all of the producers had already closed down and Northern California had taken the bull by the horns and established itself as the primary production region for premium wine.

Move ahead to the 70’s when Rosenthal, McCarty and Jones started planting grapes in the area, they quickly discovered that it was still illegal to produce wine in LA County; San Antonio was protected due to Grandfathering.  A group of locals has successfully repealed the prohibition on production but now there is the Coastal Commission, LA County Planning Department and Building and Safety to deal with.  There has not been a mountain winery ever built and especially one on septic.  The producers like Rosenthal and Semler, both of which have plans for a winery, will have to spend the millions to simply educate these parties on how to do it.  Who knows how long this will take so in the mean time most of the producers transport their grapes up to Ventura County or even further up into Santa Barbara County to produce and bottle their wines.

Rocky Oaks Vineyards

       Rosenthal Estate


                                 Church Estate Vineyards                                     


Jim Palmer’s Vineyards “Malibu Vineyards”
Semler Vineyards  

Please come and join us at Cornell to celebrate the spirit that these local producers embody and share with your friends some local wine!

Cornell Winery & Tasting Room
Thursday – Sunday
10am – 6pm
We stay open till 9pm if we don’t have a private party booked.  Please call the winery for our schedule if you wish to drop by a little later.
29975 Mulholland Hwy
Cornell (AKA Agoura), CA 91301


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