It’s the only known community in California where a general store, one-room schoolhouse, and post office dating from the 1920s are still standing and in use today.
Cornell is a tiny, rustic unincorporated community in a woodsy section of the Santa Monica Mountains, 5 miles west of Agoura Hills and about 2.5 miles north of Malibu. It’s the home of the Cornell Winery & Tasting Room at 29975 Mulholland Highway; which is right next door to the ex-general store-turned-restaurant The Old Place. Both buildings are owned by Morgan Runyon, son of the original founders of The Old Place, Tom and Barbara Runyon.
The recent former owner of the Cornell Tasting Room, Tim Skogstrom, posted a long letter online recently detailing why he needed to close the business effective Dec. 31, 2022. The most pressing reasons were that the rent was going up and the LA County Conditional Use Permit (CUP) had expired during the pandemic and needed to be renewed. He has now turned the business over to his young manager, Matt Morris, an actual native of Cornell, and is walking him through the process as much as possible.
“We have the blessing of newly elected LA County Supervisor Lindsey Horvath as well as the local government in Agoura,” Skogstrom said in a phone interview. “I’ve given Matt everything he needs to get the renewal going, and in the meantime, the landlord is fixing up the building.”
However, there were other, much more personal reasons that Tim decided to walk away from the Tasting Room.
“As some of you know, my family has struggled with alcoholism, which finally led to the tragedy last summer of losing my older brother to suicide,” he wrote. “This has left me thinking about my own choices and what future I’d like to create for myself and those in my circle. I’ve been moving off the idea of serving alcohol for a long time, and the current set of circumstances delivered by the universe and the county have conspired to advance my timeline.”
The new manager plans to reopen the business as a general store, hopefully by the end of April, and then reopen the wine tasting part of the business at a later time, because that will probably take longer to obtain a county permit.
Skogstrom started the Cornell Winery & Tasting Room in 2007 after spending more than 20 years in the wine business. He originally began working for an LA-based wine distributor and then transitioned to the Francis Ford Coppola Winery, where he rose to the position of national sales manager, turning Coppola wines into a highly successful national brand.
“Francis gave me important advice, and it’s played a critical role in the success we’ve had here at Cornell,” Skogstrom wrote. “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.
“Back in 2007, everything was just getting started [in terms of local Malibu wines]. Rosenthal opened on PCH in the parking lot of Beau Rivage, and Malibu Family Wines had just opened at Calamigos Ranch,” Skogstrom recalled.
The Cornell Tasting Room positioned itself as a guide to various local wines, some of which were not even available commercially.
“We were the only place in the area that allowed customers to explore the majority of wines made in the mountains here and also promoted wines from up the Central Coast,” Skogstrom said. “I’d 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. Some hobby winemakers went on to become excellent.
“I was the biggest seller for a lot of the local wineries. There were about 30 of them at one time,” he continued, “but after the Woolsey Fire, we lost a bunch of them.”
The Cornell Tasting Room launched various programs and events to go along with their wine tastings, exhibiting local artists’ works, featuring interesting local speakers, and turning part of the building into a general store.
Skogstrom managed The Old Place restaurant at the same time he was running the tasting room for a number of years, making him the town of Cornell’s biggest promoter, and keeping all the old stories and legends from the ’70s alive. Fifty years ago, the restaurant “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 megastars from that era would come every night.”
Skogstrom is now planning to “lean into” forming a new nonprofit organization to help the homeless.
The article was updated on Tuesday, March. 7.