San Antonio Winery,1930s. Credit: San Antonio Winery.

San Antonio Winery, 1930s. Credit: San Antonio Winery.

Los Angeles was the center of California’s small commercial winemaking industry in the 1850s. Frenchman Jean-Louis Vignes planted vineyards and became the first important commercial vineyardist and winemaker in downtown Los Angeles by 1833. William Workman, Matthew Keller, Charles Kohler, and others began operations in the 1840s and 1850s. County wine production went from 500,000 gallons in the 1860s to 3.5 million gallons in the early 1880s. By 1906 there were 38 wineries in the county.

Santo Cambianica came to Los Angeles from the northern Italian province of Lombardia around 1910, establishing his reputation as a hard-working, honest Catholic in the Italian community. He founded the San Antonio Winery in 1917 on Lamar Street in the heart of the Italian neighborhood, naming it after his patron saint, Saint Anthony.

Santo’s faith and his reputation enabled him to build a relationship with the Los Angeles Archdiocese of Los Angeles. During Prohibition, San Antonio Winery made the sacramental and ceremonial wines for the Catholic Church and became the leading producer of altar wines. They prospered during Prohibition unlike the other 100 wineries in Los Angeles.

Santo’s nephew, Stefano Riboli, returned to Los Angeles from Italy in 1936, to work with his uncle, learning the skills to operate the winery. He is still working at the winery in his Los Angeles in his nineties. Stefano inherited the winery in 1956 from his uncle. His wife, Maddalena, added a restaurant which still serves superb cuisine to this day. I remember many wonderful Sunday dinners there with my family during my childhood.

San Antonio Winery established relationships with grape growers over the last 100 years throughout California, including San Luis Obispo County. As the quality of the grapes excelled in Northern California, Stefano purchased vineyards in Monterey in the 1970s and 20 acres for Cabernet Sauvignon in Rutherford, Napa Valley in the 1980s. The family owns estate vineyards in Paso Robles that are sustainably farmed. Today San Antonio Winery is the oldest remaining winery in Los Angeles. Ninety percent of the red wine grapes are grown in the Paso Robles. They are pressed and aged in the new winemaking facility, established in 2016 in Paso Robles. The red wines are bottled down south. The white wines are also sent to Los Angeles for finishing.

Three generations work in the winery. Stefano is 96 and Maddalena is 95. Santo Riboli is his son and winemaker Antonio Roboli is Stefano’s grandson.

The Wine History Project congratulates San Antonio Winery on 101 years of winemaking.

by Libbie Agran