The California wine tradition began with the Franciscan Fathers of the early Spanish Missions. The person considered the founder of the California wine industry was a French winemaker, Jean-Louis Vignes. In 1833 he brought the first European vines from his native Bordeaux to Los Angeles. In present day Downtown LA, Vignes planted these wines and built a winery. Years later a street in Downtown would bear his name. By the end of the 1800′s, LA was the premier appellation for grape growing and wine making in California.
During the late 1800′s and early 1900′s, vineyards stretched throughout Southern California, encompassing LA, Orange, San Bernardino, and Riverside counties. With its temperate Mediterranean climate, Southern California was an ideal location for growing fruity, lush, deeply-colored grapes, such as Zinfandel, Carignan, Malvasia, and Mourvedre. It was not long before the wine industry became one of Southern California’s most economically important – and popular industries! The landscape was primed for Santo Cambianica’s fresh ideas and hard-working philosophy.
In 1910, Santo Cambianica arrived in New York and was registered at Ellis Island. He left his home of Berzo San Fermo, located in the northern Italian province of Lombardia which borders Austria to the north. In his home community, Santo was known as an honest, hard-working, and deeply devout Catholic. It was not long after he arrived on Lamar Street on the outskirts of a fledgling Downtown Los Angeles, that he was known to possess those same qualities. It took only a few years of saving money, building his relationships and friendships, and planting his feet in the Italian-American community to start his own company and live the American dream!
Santo Cambianica founded the San Antonio Winery in 1917 at the same location where the winery exists today on Lamar Street. As a life-long Catholic, he dedicated the new company to his Patron Saint Anthony, a saint popular with many Italian immigrants during that time.
In 1919, US Congress passed the Volstead Act, which effectively started Prohibition in American and jolted the wine industry. The majority of wineries in and around Los Angeles closed forever, but Santo was given permission by the Archdiocese of LA to make wines for sacramental and ceremonial purposes. His strong relationship with the church saved his company. Due to Prohibition and then the Great Depression which started after the Wall Street crash of 1929, nearly all of the 100 wineries in LA went out of business. When Prohibition was repealed in 1933, San Antonio Winery was one of the very few wineries to survive in Southern California. Consequently, San Antonio Winery experienced an immediate, fortuitous surge of business.
Stefano Riboli returned from Italy to the US in 1936. With World War II on the horizon, Stefano’s mother and father knew it was the appropriate time to return their son to the US where he was born 15 years earlier. Stefano immediately began working with his uncle Santo Cambianica. As a youth, Stefano apprenticed under Uncle Santo and began to learn the countless skills necessary to operate a winery. He became an invaluable partner to his uncle, San Antonio Winery’s founder.
When Stefano Riboli married Maddalena Satragni in 1946, the winery was already an integral part of California’s wine community. During that time, the industry still existed mainly in the South, but Northern California was making fast strides in the business. During the 1950′s and when Santo, Stefano, and Maddalena were at the helm of San Antonio, much of the wine industry moved North. They decided to remain in LA where they had been blessed by good fortune and where their family lived. They built a new tasting room in 1954, one of the first in the state, and constantly implemented improvements in the winery facility.
Santo Cambianica passed away in 1956 and wished that his nephew Stefano continue the business for the next generation. After a brief, yet unfortunate legal dispute with distant relatives, Stefano was legally granted full ownership of San Antonio Winery. He and Maddalena had a powerful vision of their future and family.
During the 1950′s and 1960′s, Stefano and Maddalena began to look North for land and grape contracting. They quickly realized that the quality of grapes produced in the North began to surpass those in the South. With assistance from their children they purchased vineyard properties in Monterey County in the 1970′s. Today neighbors include Pisoni Vineyards and Winery, Hahn Estates, Talbott Vineyards, and Paraiso Vineyards. They also started relationships and business partnerships with grape growers throughout California, many of which still exist. The Riboli Family then purchased vineyard property in the prestigious Rutherford appellation of Napa Valley in 1986, which placed the Riboli’s in excellent company along the Silverado Trail with wineries such as Beaulieu Vineyard, Caymus Vineyards, and ZD Wines. Paso Robles is the most recent grape-growing region on which the Riboli Family has focused because of the lush and complex character of the grapes grown there. Their well-established relationships with grape growers play a crucial role in the high quality of Riboli Family wines.
Today the LA River is paved and the vineyards have been replaced with businesses and homes. San Antonio Winery remains the last producing winery in LA after over 90 years of wine making and is an essential component of LA’s cultural and historical landscape. In fact, in the early 1960′s Los Angeles’ Cultural Heritage Board designated the winery Cultural Monument Number 42. Still in its original location on Lamar Street, the Winery is the last vestige of the rich wine-making tradition of the greater LA area.