Marketplace: Cognition Winery & Bistro tastes notes of success
Owners pair eatery with their Park City-made wines at new location
July 14, 2017
Dennis Romankowski and his wife Gina Coccimiglio stepped into an uncertain future in 2014 when they opened what they claim to be Park City's first winery.
Almost 30 years prior, Wasatch Brewery had helped usher in a statewide craft beer revolution from its perch in Park City, and High West Distillery later established the town as a place where fine whiskey flows. While neither Romankowski nor Coccimiglio envisioned Cognition Winery matching the status of those two brands, they understood they had a lot to live up to.
"We thought, 'Well, it's time that a winery started here, even though we can't grow the grapes here,'" Coccimiglio said.
Three years later, the business is prospering and has outgrown its small beginnings. They recently moved their operation from an industrial building in Silver Creek to a new location on Iron Horse Drive, where they paired the winery with a small restaurant featuring Coccimiglio's culinary stylings, under the name Cognition Winery & Bistro. That followed a tasting room and mercantile they opened on Main Street last fall.
A decade ago, it would have been difficult for the couple to imagine the winery's success — or even its existence at all. It wasn't until about five years ago that they first considered the possibility of opening a winery as they began envisioning their lives after retirement.
Romankowski, a sommelier who has trained in California, Italy and France but spent his career in the environmental field, dreamed of drinking in the days making zinfandels and pinot noirs, and he was attracted by the challenge of doing it at the foot of the Wasatch mountains. In 2012, they started making their own wine and began selling it two years later.
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"There was an open niche in Park City," he said.
Cognition Winery works with vineyards in California to harvest its grapes — overseeing the process the whole way — which are then crushed into juice and shipped to Park City in refrigerated vans. From there, the entire process takes place in the winery, where large metal stills rise from the ground and stacks of oak barrels line the rear wall.
The final result is a varied list of wines, including two chardonnays, a zinfandel, a petite sirah, a cabernet sauvignon and a sauvignon blanc. The wines are available at both of Cognition Winery's locations, but several restaurants and hotels throughout the area also serve them, an achievement Romankowski and Coccimiglio haven't taken for granted.
They said seeing their product featured on the menus of some of their favorite eateries in Park City has been gratifying. The support the culinary community has shown them — despite Cognition Winery & Bistro being a competitor — has been overwhelming. Even Old Town Cellars, a Main Street winery that opened in 2016, has embraced them, offering some of Cognition's wines at their lounge (a courtesy Cognition reciprocates at its bistro).
"Park City is big into supporting the locals," Coccimiglio said. "… It's amazing how supportive people have been. It's been an amazing experience — nothing that we expected."
With the winery tasting success, the couple thought pairing it with the bistro would create a unique experience for customers. Designed with the European philosophy of relaxed dining in mind, Coccimiglio and Romankowski invite patrons to spend an intimate evening with a date or a convivial night with a group of friends at a communal table or on the outdoor patio.
Coccimiglio, who has a passion for food but works primarily as a nurse practitioner, is the only cook, whipping up Mediterranean-style dishes in the small kitchen such as chicken margarita flatbread, spaghetti and meatballs, and occasionally off-menu meals for customers craving something the bistro doesn't traditionally offer.
The couple modeled the eatery after the kinds of places they like to frequent, figuring that others in Park City would enjoy the relaxed atmosphere. When it's not too busy, Coccimiglio and Romankowski pour glasses of wine for themselves and visit with diners they've known for years or patrons they hope will become new friends.
"We want to slow people down," Romankowski said. "When you have dinner, we want it to be an event. It's not just, 'Bingo, bango, bongo, we're out of here.' We object to that because that's not what we're about. We want you to socialize with whoever you're with. Nobody is in a hurry."
Cognition Winery & Bistro
1260 Iron Horse Drive