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Tuesday, December 19, 2006
San Antonio Winery: 90 Years and Counting
Wine barrels in the San Antonio storage facility
Steve Riboli has been doing some research, but so far has come up empty. How many L.A.-based mom-and-pop businesses, he wonders, have operated continuously under the same family for 90 years?
So far, Riboli knows of only one -- his own, downtown's San Antonio Winery. Founded in 1917 by Riboli's great-uncle, Santo Cambianica, the San Antonio (named after Cambianica's patron saint) will celebrate its 90th anniversary next year.
It's a distinction the Riboli family wears as a badge of honor. The San Antonio Winery managed to weather prohibition (keeping busy by supplying sacramental wine to the Catholic Church) and survive the changing make up of Los Angeles -- where vineyards eventually disappeared, taking the city's once bustling wineries along with it.
San Antonio's wine tasting room
As many as 50 wineries once operated in Los Angeles, but San Antonio is the last remaining one. It's one of my favorite Los Angeles points of interest -- so much so that I included the winery as a stop on my 2003 Mike's Birthday Race. (Racers stopped at the San Antonio tasting room, above, and were required to complete a tasting before receiving their next clue.)
Mmmm... vats of wine!
I remember hearing from several race participants later, shocked to learn that Los Angeles is actually home to a working, vibrant winery. (The grapes are now grown up north, including Paso Robles, Napa and Monterey.) Even now, it's one of L.A.'s best kept secrets. But Steve and family are looking to change that -- which is how we ended up with an invite a few weeks ago to check out the place.
Sign pointing to San Antonio Winery
Located east of Downtown, the San Antonio Winery is a sprawling complex featuring a wine tasting room, the bustling Maddalena Restaurant and its wine production and distribution outfit. It's also a popular spot for parties, wedding receptions and meetings... and the Riboli family continues to expand those areas to grab even more business, particularly during the holiday season.
Inside the Maddalena Restaurant, with Steve Riboli and mother Maddalena
It's truly a family enterprise: They're both in their 80s, but Steve's father, Stefano, is still an active part of the enterprise, while his mother, Maddalena, can be found on most days at the restaurant (named after her) that she launched in the mid-70s. (Above, that's Steve, with Maddalena, at the restaurant.) The fourth generation of Ribolis are now involved, as Steve's nephew, Anthony, is a winemaker as well (one of the winery's four).
The bottle conveyor belt
San Antonio has moved beyond its traditional table wines and has won countless recognition for its upscale labels, including Riboli Family Vineyard, San Simeon and Maddalena.
In honor of its 90th anniversary, the winery has also created the "San Antonio Heritage" label, which "celebrates the traditional 'field blends' of Santo Cambianica and Stefano Riboli." According to the Ribolis, field blends -- in which many grape varieties were planted in the same vineyard -- were popular up through the first half of the 20th century. The San Antonio blend includes Zinfandel, Carignane, Petite Sirah, Grenache and others.
Winemaker Arnaud Debons offers up a taste from one of the wine barrels
While there, Steve gave us a tour of the San Antonio facilities, giving us a peak behind the scenes at where the wine is stored and aged.
Inside the Maddalena Restaurant
While dining at the Maddalena Restaurant, Steve also discussed the unusual harvest season this year. Because of the unusually warm weather, the grape harvest was delayed by a month. (When we met in late November, the winery was just finishing the year's harvest.) While he hesitated to blame global warning, he did warn that a few more years of such unusual weather could really impact the process.
Food at the Maddalena
San Antonio Winery will hold its next "Wine 101" wine tasting seminar on Jan. 20 and 21. Wines to be sampled include Turnbull Sauvignon Blanc 2005 Napa Valley, Grgich Hills Fume Blanc 2005 Napa Valley, San Simeon Chardonnay 2003 Monterey County, San Felice Il Grigio Chianti Classico Riserva 2001 Tuscany, Sterling Vineyards Merlot 2002 Napa Valley, San Simeon Cabernet Sauvignon 2002 Paso Robles, Opolo Vineyards Mountain Zinfandel 2005 Paso Robles, and Maddalena Vineyard Muscat Canelli 2005 Paso Robles. Food will also be served; cost is $60.00 per person.
San Antonio Winery, 737 Lamar St., Los Angeles (323.223.1401)