Michael Perlis: Cornell Winery and Tasting Room

Okay, I’ve posted two teaser articles, one an email from Tim Skogstrom, co-owner [with his wife Denise] of Cornell Winery and Tasting Room, and one about our lunch at Zin Bistro Americana before heading over to the tasting room.

But now it is time to “cut to the chase” and report about our actual visit to Cornell Winery, which I discovered when searching for information about Los Angeles winemaking, past and present.

I have to start out by saying that even though I have lived in the Los Angeles area most of my life, I am amazed that I have never been to visit here before. The Cornell Winery and Tasting Room is located in an incredibly picturesque area on Mulholland Highway in Cornell aka Agoura. Its close neighbors include the famous Rock Store, the Peter Strauss Ranch [formerly known as Lake Enchanto], as well as their next door restaurant The Old Place and neighbor Charme D’Antan.

Cornell Winery and Tasting Room is not a winery in itself, but a tasting room and store dedicated to showcasing the wines made from producers in the Santa Monica Mountains.

Tim graciously took some time out of his busy day to sit with my wife Karen and me and talk about his love for the area and his commitment to the local wine producers. On this beautiful sunny California day, Tim talked about the history of the area, how it was settled initially by homesteaders in the late 1800s, with a one-room schoolhouse that was named after Cornell University in honor of their generosity for helping to develop the syllabus and supplying books. Per Tim, Cornell is located in unincorporated Los Angeles County with services provided by the city of Agoura.  Tim also suggested reading the book Three Magical Miles by Brian Rooney for more information on the area. The book is available for purchase at Cornell Winery and at the Old Place Restaurant.

Cornell Winery occupies a building built in 1986 out of cinderblock. The Skogstroms signed their lease for the property in 2006. Tim initially planned to make wine, but saw a greater opportunity to promote the wines being made from the Santa Monica Mountain vineyards, as well as promoting Cornell itself. Having worked for Coppola and Constellation, he had experienced many aspects of the wine industry and was now looking to give back. They officially opened about a year ago.

I asked Tim where he felt the area was going, both in general and in terms of grape varieties. For grapes, he felt the traditional Bordeaux varietals of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot did well, as did Syrah. In terms of the area, one of his goals is to see a re-launch of Cornell, with recognition as an independent town with its own rich history. I would say he is on his way to achieving this. Tim also mentioned that a Santa Monica Mountains wine festival is coming up April 24th. Information on this event is available on the Cornell Winery website (www.cornellwinery.com).

We then tasted some wines. Cornell’s tasting room has tastings that for a very reasonable $15 charge, you can taste eight different wines. On this day, they were pouring the following:

Rosenthal/Surfrider, Pinot Gris, Santa Barbara
Cielo, Chardonnay, Napa
Saddlerock Malibu Family Wines, Santa Maria
Malibu Vineyards, Sangiovese, Decker Canyon
Colcanyon Estates, Merlot, Latigo Canyon
Zuma Canyon, Syrah, Malibu
Mulholland Hwy, Melange Blend, Triunfo
Malibu Solstice, Cabernet Sauvignon, Solstice Cyn

All of the wines were of very high quality, and the tasting room staff is extremely knowledgeable. Our favorites were the Syrah and Chardonnay. I intended to buy both, but I think I did not properly communicate this and ended up with only the Chardonnay – definitely my loss.

[On a side note, I saw they carried the 2008 Palm Cellars Zinfandel. I used to be a fan of Palm Cellars, a very good producer of Paso Robles Zinfandel and Syrah. However, they were a victim of the recession and closed, which was why I was surprised to see a current release from them. From what I can tell, Wades Wines, a terrific retailer in Westlake Village, acquired the label, and made this wine using local fruit and the very talented winemaker Joey Tensley. Being the Zinfan, I couldn’t help myself and had to buy a bottle.]

We left Cornell in the very late afternoon. Based on what we tasted, we are eager to explore the wineries in the area. Plus, my fellow staff writer Rusty and I, along with our wives, are planning on a dinner at The Old Place Restaurant next door.

A big thank you to Tim for the time he spent with us on our visit, as well as providing suggestions and corrections to the first draft of this article.

Cornell Winery & Tasting Room
29975 Mulholland Hwy
Cornell aka Agoura, CA 91301

Old Place Restaurant
29983 Mulholland Hwy
Cornell aka Agoura, CA 91301

Michael Perlis provides outsourced controller services to businesses that do not need a full-time controller. He balances this with his interest in wine: reading and writing about it and, of course, drinking it. He is still trying to figure out how to combine these two pursuits. Feel free to contact him about either at mcpfinancial@aol.com or michaelthezinfan@aol.com. “It is common practice for wine industry workers, wine writers and winery club members [and members of their party] to receive complimentary tastings and discounted purchases. Unless it is otherwise noted, it should be presumed that this is the case.”

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