Having lived in Los Angeles for over 20 years, I heard about a winery here and had even driven by a few times but never stopped in. When I finally stopped in I was amazed at what I finally discovered, what had been waiting for me all these years.
The San Antonio Winery is a real gem, nestled right in a safe, but gritty industrial section right next to the newly redeveloped downtown area. The winery is a great way to spend an afternoon, whether you’re a local or just visiting. In addition to tastings and tours, the winery also offers a gift shop and a wonderful Northern Italian restaurant.
The story of the winery and the Riboli family who run it goes back to 1910. Santo Cambianica came over from Northern Italy as a young man, with nothing, arriving as many did through Ellis Island in New York. He made his way West and eventually settled in Los Angeles seven years later. A devout Catholic, he worked hard and set up a winery, just one of many in the city at the time.
The tradition of wine making in California goes back to the 1700’s and the Spanish Missions established throughout the state. The Missions needed wine for their church services and began to grow the grapes and make their own wine. The industry flourished throughout Southern California, where the weather was perfect and the land was cheap.
When prohibition came in 1919, most of the wineries were forced to close. But there was one place wine was still used and needed, The Church. The Los Angeles Catholic Archdiocese needed wine and through his strong faith and relationship with the Church, Santo and his winery became the sole and exclusive supplier of sacramental wine during prohibition, allowing the business to stay alive and continue.
The Great Depression in 1929 killed off most remaining wineries in Los Angeles and by the time prohibition was repealed in 1933 the winery grew again, as they were the only company already up and running and ready to take immediate advantage of the new laws.
The next generation, Stefano Riboli, came to the US to work with his uncle in 1936 and soon became his partner. Stefano married Maddalena in 1946 and they continue to run the winery, along with their children. The winery remains in the exact same spot it was opened in 1917, however the family now owns vineyards in Northern California where the grapes are actually grown. You can see maps and read the details during the winery tour. The family owns prime land alongside many other famous producers and makes some of the best wine in California, under 14 different brands. The processing and aging takes place at the winery in Los Angeles.
The winery built its first tasting room in 1954, considered one of the first in the state. The winery also features a wonderful Italian restaurant called Maddalena, named for and run by Maddalena herself. Winery tours are offered hourly and they have FREE WINE!. A selected list is offered as free samples and they have some great paid specials for tasting some of their more limited higher end wines.
The wines are amazing, I had the $10.00 premier tasting which included:
Windstream Santa Lucia Highlands Chardonnay
Good, very light and fruity. As it was a sunny warm day, this was our favorite wine for the tasting.
San Antonio Cask 520 Bordeaux Blend Paso Robles 2006
Wow. A great blend, aged well, just delicious. I wish they served a nice steak with this one. We bought a bottle to take home for $27.95.
Riboli Family Cabernet Sauvignon Rutherford Napa Valley 2008
Good but premature. They warned us. Needs to cellar for a few years to really finish properly and fully. We passed on this $49.99 bottle.
Stella Rosa Imperiale Brachetto D A’cquil DOCG
Amazing sparking and refreshing, we bought three bottles of this one, $16.95 a bottle or $45. for the three. We know this will be a hit at all the Christmas parties we’ll be attending.
The San Antonio Winery is located near downtown Los Angeles, its a great part of a day spent maybe in the Fashion District nearby, or in the new, hip Old Bank District, Little Tokyo or Chinatown, they are all within a few miles of each other. And don’t forget Olvera Street, the old Mexican village tourist area also in downtown Los Angeles.
San Antonio Winery
737 Lamar Street
Los Angeles, CA 90031
(about a mile north of city hall in downtown Los Angeles)
They have another tasting room and store in Ontario, CA and a location up north in Paso Robles.
Historic family information from San Antonio Winery Website