Malibu – that iconic stretch of Californian coastline which conjures up thoughts of sun, sea, surf and Baywatch.
But wine? A classic vintage is not something which springs to mind when considering the celebrity beach haunt of the Hollywood elite.
However, one of the best kept secrets of this area nicknamed ‘27 miles of scenic beauty’ is its selection of boutique vineyards, which nestle in the beautiful Malibu mountains.
And for those in the know, one of the best spots to try some of the most stunning vintages homegrown in the area, is Cornell, the intimate winery and tasting room located in a hideaway village of the same name.
Cornell Winery and Tasting Room – a rich history
The passion project of Tim Skogstrom, he turned his back on the daily grind of a corporate job, redeveloping the old general store and post office, which was falling down, and converted it into a veritable haven for wine lovers.
Tim opened the winery in 2006: “I felt I had lost the passion and romance from my job. I had been working for one of the biggest wine sellers in the world, but I was searching for something more.
“When I got here, the site was derelict and the building was being used for storage.”
The ramshackle plot was originally owned by Tom and Barbara Runyon, and their son Morgan.
They moved out to Malibu in 1969, with plans to open an equine resort, back when the area was farming land and nicknamed ‘Malabama.’
If the name seems familiar, the family also owned Runyon Canyon, the network of hiking and dog walking trails in the Hollywood Hills which is much loved by celebrities.
Tim says when he came on board, Tom and Barbara had originally wanted to make wine, but faced structural problems with the building: “The floor of the building was too high and they realized it would be a debacle to renovate, so I decided to sell instead.”
Tim’s boutique wine business was born.
A selection of Malibu wines that are hard to beat
He has successfully created a place for wineries to sell their wine who have no branding, no marketing and no big bucks behind them: “We will put the wines up against wines that are of like style.
“There’s not a lot of space for vineyards in Malibu, a lot of them are tiny, with only a few hundred vines.
“I have been able to vet 20 of the 50 as being commercially viable. Ten of them I would take around the world.
“When you tell people the wine if from Malibu, they say, ‘What, like Baywatch?’ “They are always surprised.”
Referring to the mountains as “the lungs of LA” Tim says the region produces a range of syrahs, chardonnays, pinot noirs and cabernets which are second to none and unique in flavor thanks to the grapes close proximity to the ocean.
A step back in time…
Visitors to Cornell Winery take a step back in time as they enter the wooden building.
The cosy but light and airy space has an eclectic mix of décor with paintings and nick nacks side by side with the delectable vintages on offer.
Glance upwards and two cars from a children’s fairground ride hang from the ceiling, a nod to the history of the area: “They used to be part of LA’s very first amusement park – Lake Enchanter, which was located just across the road. When it opened it had a pool which could hold 2000 people,” Tim revealed.
“Disney got it shut down The cars had been stuck in Alaska for 60 years and we rescued them.”
The Old Place
The site also features iconic restaurant The Old Place, which has one of the toughest table turn around policies in LA and a no nonsense attitude when it comes to a celebrity or awkward guest.
Tim revealed the stiff policy is a hand me down from the former owners: “Barbara was known as the steak nazi.
““She would insist they could only open if there were four people who wanted to eat.
“If you returned your steak for any reason she would take your steak and not come back.
“Food critics would rave about the food but say it was the worst customer experience they ever had.”
This is the steakhouse that time forgot – and it is all the better for it.
Everything is cooked on an open fire, from the fish of the day to the beef stew and the restaurant has no freezer.
With a nod to the locales film roots, it is right near Malibu Lake, where B role was filmed for Gone With The Wind.
And Steve McQueen’s favoured diner, The Rock Store, is a five minute drive.
A place of pilgrimage for motorcycle enthusiasts, the café usually has some high end Harley’s parked out front.
Ali MacGraw, Jason Robards, Sam Peckinpah, Sam Elliott, Katherine Ross, Bob Dylan are just a few of the famous faces who made the area their hangout of choice.
Where the celebrities like to hang out in private
However it is still hard to believe the bright lights of Tinseltown are a matter of miles away.
But Tim says you are never far removed from it: “Britney Spears likes to hang out here, and Pink loves it, she comes here quite a lot.
“Eric Clapton had his birthday here a few years ago – I rang round my friends and asked them if they wanted to bar back, and said it would cost them $1000! It was a great night.”
Take one look at the parking lot and the Ferraris and Porches are a not so subtle reminder of the kind of money some of his clientele make in the film industry.
However Tim says ego is left firmly at the door when people come to the restaurant: “The Old Place has sittings and you have to leave when your time is up.
“You can imagine the little Beverly Hills princess who shows up saying, ‘I’m not done.’ But those are the rules.”
And Tim’s last resort for the irate stressed out customer? A walk with his dog Mali: “I say go take my dog outside for five minutes he is here to take your stress and anger out of you.”
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This article first appeared in EgoReview Los Angeles.