Henry & Vanessa Cornell
Having lived a significant portion of his life overseas, Henry Cornell learned early on that wine is an excellent way to connect with people of different cultures. He always brings a bottle of wine to lunch or dinner; it’s an icebreaker. And while a lifetime of tasting, reading, learning and collecting naturally led to an appreciation of European wines, when it came time to start his own wine venture – the logical conclusion to this lifelong love of wine – Henry settled on California.
Time spent in the 1970’s as a young adult in San Francisco acquainted him with some of the “classic” California Cabernets – wines like BV, Montelena, Raymond, Heitz – and it was a wine profile Henry never forgot. When he first saw the property that would become Cornell Vineyards, he was enamored by the sheer beauty and history of the property. It drew him in and he knew he had to make a wine from this place.
Like her husband Henry, Vanessa Cornell shares a deep connection with their property and firmly believes in creating an ethos where care for both the land and the people working on it go hand in hand. Having been moved by this place, Vanessa was inspired to launch an artist in residence program and begin the development of a culinary garden that will live among the vineyards.
Together, Henry and Vanessa lead a team of talented wine industry professionals from Napa and Sonoma, who are manifesting their dream of building a legacy and making a world-class wine that is worthy of the place it was born.
Vanessa is the founder of NUSHU Society, a women’s membership community grounded in wellness and empowerment. In addition, she serves on the Leadership Council of the Mt. Sinai Children’s Health and Development Institute and is involved in women’s alumnae initiatives at her alma maters, St. Paul’s School and Harvard College. Passions include surfing, rock climbing, contemporary Japanese ceramics and wine.
Henry is the founder of Cornell Capital and sits on the board of trustees of Mount Sinai Hospital, the Whitney Museum of American Art, The Asia Society, and the Navy SEAL Foundation, and is also a member of the Council on Foreign Relations.
Henry and Vanessa reside in New York with their five children and return to their team at Cornell Vineyards often.
Elizabeth Tangney brings 15 years of experience to Cornell Vineyards. As the Director of Viticulture and Winemaking, she works side-by-side with the vineyard team to care for our 20 acres and during each harvest creates a wine that will express the terroir and vintage.
While studying French in high school and college, Elizabeth became inspired by the pace of the European lifestyle that is centered around food, wine, and people coming together. She studied both viticulture and enology at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo. Her ambition to understand both the vineyard and winemaking has driven her career.
Before joining Cornell Vineyards, Elizabeth worked at Saint Helena Winery as Winemaker and Vineyard Manager. Mentored by Aaron Pott together they produced highly-rated wines recognized by Robert Parker. Prior posts have been in the cellar at Bryant Family Vineyards, viticulturist for a 250-acre estate in Sonoma County, Saint-Émilion, Bordeaux and Paso Robles, California.
Francoise Peschon is the Consulting Winemaker for Cornell Vineyards. Her deep affinity for estate properties – for those places that are “about the land and the wines, not necessarily the winemaker” drives the desire to help shape the wine and culture at Cornell Vineyards. Since joining the Cornell Vineyards team in 2013, she is the fulcrum around which the ethos and team have been assembled.
Francoise has worked with some of Napa Valley’s best—including Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars, Araujo Estate Wines, Viader Vineyards and Vine Hill Ranch—quietly crafting some of Napa Valley’s most acclaimed Cabernet Sauvignons of the last three decades. She is quick to credit her mentors, wine industry luminaries like Michel Roland, Warren Winiarski and Tony Soter, whose sensitivity, intellect and sense of aesthetics have been her inspiration.
Early in her winemaking career, Francoise spent a year in Bordeaux at Chateau Haut Brion. It was there that she knew she wanted to work with Bordeaux varieties at an estate property. She holds a degree in Enology from the University of California—Davis, and participated in the DUAD program at the University of Bordeaux.
Francoise continues to work with Bart and Daphne Araujo on their new venture, Accendo, as well as Vine Hill Ranch. She is also invested in Drinkward Peschon, a small brand she shares with her good friend and neighbor, Lisa Drinkward, since 2000.
Drawing on nearly 30 years of experience in the wine business, Melinda Kearney is known throughout wine country for her ability to successfully launch a new wine brand, dovetailing her experience and her clients’ commitment to their vision. She believes the key to success lies in bringing together the vision, the vineyards and the right team. At Cornell Vineyards, she has done just that since 2016.
In addition to Cornell Vineyards, Melinda has successfully launched a handful of luxury estate wines under her own consulting business including Brand Napa Valley, Wolf Family Vineyards and Evening Land Vineyards. In the last ten years she has also built her own brand, Lorenza Rosé with her daughter Michele Ouellet.
Prior to founding her own consulting business and wine label, Melinda co-owned restaurants in Boulder, Colorado during the 1980s with extensive by-the-glass programs. Her appreciation for food and wine led her to Napa Valley. In 1990, she garnered invaluable experience working for a small pinot noir producer in the cellar, vineyard, sales and operations before moving on to Frog’s Leap Winery where she spent ten years as the Vice President of Sales expanding the brand in the U.S. and internationally. Melinda earned a Bachelor of Arts in Literature from the University of Colorado—Boulder.
Texas native Austin Pitzer has nearly 10 years of experience in hospitality and tasting room management. As director for Cornell Vineyards, he is a brand ambassador responsible for national sales, brand development, budgeting and hospitality, as well as tastings on property and guest relations. His big picture point of view and systems and management tools have set the brand up for sustainable growth.
He decided to pursue a career in the wine industry during a college project, which led him to a position at a Texas winery. It was there that he got a taste for the daily operations including winemaking and vineyard management.
Austin moved to Sonoma in 2009, where he broadened his experience working harvest and hospitality. He has held sales and hospitality positions at Robert Biale Vineyards and Hartwell Vineyards, and most recently served as General Manager of Sarocka Vineyards before joining Cornell Vineyards in early 2018. Austin and his family own a wine label, Avril Taylor, which focuses on small-production Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay and Rosé from Napa Valley.
Austin is a certified wine professional from the Culinary Institute of America and is recognized by the Court of Master Sommeliers as a Level 1 sommelier. He is a graduate of Baylor University and holds a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration.
Originally from Michoacán, Mexico, Armando Hernandez has nearly three decades of experience with vineyard management for several highly-regarded wineries throughout Napa and Sonoma Valleys. He has been with Cornell Vineyards for more than three years and oversees a full-time team who tend to the entire 240-acre property.
Viticulture has always been fascinating to Armando, but for him, it’s the reward of a beautiful wine at the end of each harvest that makes the year-long journey worth the work.
Previously, Armando worked with Terra Valentine, Rudd Winery and Piña Vineyard Management. His roles and responsibilities included various management positions, safety training for large machinery and crewmember leadership. Armando has been a member of the Future Farmers of America for the past seven years.
Armando and his family live on property at Cornell Vineyards along with a small herd of Alpine, Mancha and Nubian goats, Jersey cows, horses and chickens.
In 2015, Cornell Vineyards welcomed a full-time vineyard crew to live on the property, to farm the vines and to care for the land. The vineyard team has furthered the Cornell’s commitment to organically and sustainably farm the land and maintain an intimate relationship with each vine as the seasons change.
Roberto Jacobo is the Estate Equipment Operator, living on the property with his wife and son. Balthazar Aguilar is the Irrigation Lead. Javier Hernandez is the Tractor Driver, and also lives on property with his wife and daughter. Armando R. Hernandez and Rene Molina are the newest additions to the team.
The property came alive when the team made Cornell Vineyards their home, yielding a mutual commitment and deep connection to the mountain estate. When they aren’t working in the vineyards, the team is enjoying a lifestyle with less commuting and more time spent with their families.