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  • Writer's pictureMona Elyafi

Cornell Winery and Tasting Room is leading the charge in bringing Malibu Wines to the Wolrd

Cornell Winery & Tasting Room is one of those rare and precious LA’s little hidden gems you don’t want anyone else to know about for fear the media buzz will create an influx of hipsters & curiosity seekers who will irrevocably ruin its charms.

But the place, the staff and the wines are all so fine and exceptional, they deserve more than a little spotlight.

I discovered this jewel a little over a year ago, amid pandemic pandemonium, courtesy of my friend Memoree. On a mission to sustain my obsessive champagne addiction, she googled “champagne bars in Los Angeles” and, BINGO, there it was! Cornell Winery & Tasting Room.

Things that make you go pop, fizz and crackle! Just like that, we enthusiastically embarked on this bubbly journey.

If Covid ushered in worldwide fear and anxiety, it also, thankfully offered moments of pure enjoyments delivering little silver lining experiences amid total and complete mayhem.

While many people decided to press pause on their lives, we, on the other hand, fearlessly shifted to high gear and didn’t miss a beat! Perhaps Russian Roulette is a fitting metaphor, but at least, we, as a result, got to uncover some of California’s best-kept secrets like Cornell Winery.

Located in the center of the Santa Monica Mountains, sandwiched in between Agoura Hills and Malibu, the quaint and cozy Cornell Winery has been delighting the palate of wine connoisseurs, aficionados, and fans since 2007.

Home to around 50 growers of wine-grapes, here Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Cabernet Sauvignon grapes rule. The scenic drive from the beach is beyond charming surrounded by Mediterranean style villas creating a landscape reminiscent of the South of France. In contrast, if you get to Cornell from the 101 Freeway, that portion of Kanan Road (through technically, Agoura Hills) transports you into a John Wayne movie set, providing the quintessential Western backdrop.

While the place is not a winery, it remains a unique tasting room with a selection of wines drawing from the diverse palette of the vineyards and local wine growing in the Santa Monica Mountains and up the central coast of California.

The tasting room itself is a feast for the eyes, with vintage, rustic interior decors, a slew of crafty treasures, kitschy wine gadgets (you actually need), and some 50+ pieces of art on display from some of the top local artists.

Named after the historic city of Cornell, CA, Cornell winery is as much about community building as it is about storytelling. This philosophy plays out throughout the entire winery where in the middle of it all you will always spot Kevin the peacock (a fixture) as well as a tall charismatic man sporting a goatee and sometimes, a fashionable cowboy hat. He’s the keeper of the wine list and the mastermind behind it all. He is Tim Skogstrom, and he is a gem in Cornell, CA’s rich history.

Skogstrom’s success story is rooted in the meeting of two legends: Francis Ford Coppola and Thomas Mercein Runyon (aka Tom Runyon).

“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,” says Tim Skogstrom.

Lesser known, perhaps, but of equal stature, and certainly greater influence, is Tom Runyon.

Back in the 1970s, Runyon acquired the building where Cornell Winery is presently located in, and the Old Place Restaurant adjacent to it.

The Old Place was originally the city of Cornell’s official post office in the 19th century, and to this day, the restaurant continues to pay homage to its heritage having salvaged the original sorting table, which is still used as the focal point of the private dining room known as the Mail Room.

Runyon and his wife Barbara ran The Old Place not so much as a restaurant but as a clubhouse, which drew in some of the A-list names that ruled the 70s. A celebrity mecca, the Old Place morphed into a nightly pied-a-terre for the likes of Ali MacGraw, Sam Elliott, Bob Dylan, Steve McQueen and Jason Robards, to name a few.

“Tom would start up the wood-fired grill and the beer and wine would flow just like the stories,” comments Skogstrom.

Oh, the stories you’ll hear!

And perhaps the most single important story in this storyline is the meeting of Tom and Tim – it was kismet.

As the adage goes, "Some people come into your life for a reason, some for a season, and some for a lifetime.” In Skogstrom’s case, suffice it to say, meeting Tom Runyon was epically life changing.

The friendship that ensued naturally led to the birth of Cornell Winery & Tasting Room.

“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,” says Skogstrom.

Giving a voice to local winemakers and cementing Cornell Winery’s regional identity as the cornerstone of a community is exactly what Tim Skogstrom has achieved over these past 15 years.

Both the Old Place and Cornell Winery & Tasting Room beautifully live together side by side in perfect harmony. In fact, after Tom Runyon’s passing in 2009, his son Morgan joined forces with Tim Skogstrom to re-open and re-brand The Old Place. The result is an inexhaustibly busy saloon-style shack with lines down the street every day.

Mea culpa … I hesitated to write an article/review about how incredibly special this quiet gem is, because I selfishly do not want to create a media brouhaha and cause more people to come out in droves.

It is by far one of my favorite spots in Los Angeles – the best place to sit, sip some exquisite local wine and, in my case, indulge in some divine champagnes. I spend most weekends trekking there to waste an afternoon, or even a full day.

Of course, their Champagne selection is also a motivation. While the breadth of their Champagne catalog is not as extensive as their wine list, the sheer quality of their choice is unmatched.

My personal favorite is the Bruno Paillard Première Cuvée.

I love sharing my passion for champagne with the staff. Wendy and Peter are a wealth of knowledge, and it is quite a treat to get to chat with them. Tim is also an exceptional host, as is Dusty who runs a tight ship outside on the property.

The number of champagne bottles we’ve popped open there is more than I can count with my hands. But it was worth every bubble!

Wine, indeed, always brings people together!

That is what Cornell Winery and Tasting Room is all about.

It’s about the extra-special connections … connections to people - customers and staff, for whom the restaurant & the Winery is part of their life, their community, their identity; connections to history, and connections to the stories it boasts.

Move over Napa, Sonoma, Paso Robles and Temecula, California’s new emerging wine scene is in Malibu and Cornell Winery and Tasting Room is leading the charge in bringing the region’s wines to the world.


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 schoolhouse for the local families. Ezra sent out a box of books and syllabus for the students. With gratitude, they named their town Cornell, CA.

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