It may surprise some Angelinos to know that at the turn of the century, Downtown Los Angeles was home to more than 90 wineries. Indeed, before Napa and Sonoma Counties took the title of ‘wine country’, Southern California and Los Angeles in particular were some of the biggest production areas for wine in the nation. Lincoln Heights, which was once the Little Italy of L.A., was at the center of this industry. Throughout the 20th century, prohibition and urbanization led to the closure of almost all of these wineries. That is, except for one by the name of San Antonio Winery, which was held together by a mixture of hard work, smart thinking and family values.
On Thursday, San Antonio Winery kicked off a yearlong celebration of its 100th year of winemaking. Two of the four generations of family who have run the winery since 1917 were in attendance. Steve Riboli, son of Stefano and Maddalena Riboli — the patriarch and matriarch of the business — opened the event. His warm welcome speech honored the past and looked forward to the future, proclaiming “100 years, marching on, and with another hundred to go; we are in the middle of the race.”
The focus of the centennial celebration was on the Riboli family. Congresswoman Lucille Roybal-Allard, who presented the family with a framed copy of the San Antonio Winery’s page within the Congressional Record, highlighted this in her speech, saying, “What is so wonderful is not just the success of the winery and the fact that you are one of the top thirty wineries of the country, but that it continues to be a family-owned winery — four generations of family.”
San Antonio Winery’s story is one of family and perseverance. Santo Cambianica and his three brothers, recent immigrants from Lombardy, Italy, started the winery in 1917. Santo, a deeply Catholic man, named the winery for the Patron Saint Anthony. Just two years later, Prohibition shook the nation and L.A.’s wine business crumbled. However, the quick-thinking Santo was able to keep San Antonio alive by providing sacramental wines to the Catholic Church. By the 1930s when Prohibition was repealed, San Antonio Winery was one of the biggest producers of sacramental wine in the country, a title that they still hold to this day.
In 1937, Santo handed over the winery to his nephew, Stefano Riboli. Stefano and his wife Maddalena have been running the winery ever since. In fact, despite having just celebrated his 95th birthday in September, Papa Stefano is still very active in the business. Dante Colombatti, son of Cathy Riboli Colombatti and a fourth generation San Antonio Winery employee, has been traveling the country promoting the brand for the last few months, powered on by his hard working grandparents. He says his grandparents are constantly telling him and his family, “Don’t stop. Keep going!”
Ana Guerrero, Mayor Eric Garcetti’s Chief of Staff, also presented the Riboli family with a placard “on behalf of the city’s first Jewish/Mexican/Italian Mayor,” congratulating them on their first 100 years.
A large part of the secret to success for San Antonio Winery is the old-school values of the Riboli family. San Antonio began as a small, three-building winery in Downtown Los Angeles and has grown into one of the top thirty wineries in the country with more than 85 different wine labels made from grapes grown around the world. These include Stella Rosa (Piedmont, Italy), Santo Stefano (Napa, CA), Windstream (Monterey, CA) and Maddalena (Paso Robles).
So what is their secret to success?
“We try to keep it in the family,” said Colombatti, “We grow, but it’s still important to us to figure out how to constantly keep those family values in check. So no matter what we do here and anything else we do outside, that’s the one thing that our competitors don’t have.”
L.A. City Councilmember Jose Huizar, who presented the family with a congratulatory placard on behalf of the city of Los Angeles, credits the success of the business to the Ribolis. “It’s no secret that they would be so successful for 100 years,” he said, “because when you walk in these doors, you feel the warmth, you feel the family atmosphere, you feel the belonging.”
One of the most important values for the Riboli family is that of hard work. When Stefano Riboli saw his future wife, Maddalena Satragni, working on a tractor in the vineyards of Chino in 1945, he thought to himself, “If she can ride a tractor, she can run a winery.” Two weeks later, he proposed.
From the moment they were married, Stefano and Maddalena worked together to grow the San Antonio Winery into what it is today. They instilled that same work ethic in their children — Santo, Steve and Cathy — from a young age, setting them to work in the winery and restaurant after school and on the weekends. It was never a question that they would take over for their parents one day and that their children would do the same.
While at one time San Antonio Winery processed and produced all of its wine in Downtown L.A., today much of the work is done in Central California. In September, the Ribolis celebrated the grand opening of a brand new winery and pressing facility in Paso Robles. The new facility will produce 500,000 cases of wine each year. However, while the winery may be new, the grapes have been grown there for many years. There are two distinct vineyards in Paso where the Ribolis gather their grapes. One is named for Papa Stefano and the other for Maddalena. Each is on a hill, a stone’s throw from the other. That way, even when they’re gone, they will still be able to see one another.
L.A. City Councilmember Gil Cedillo, who has been coming to the winery and restaurant since he was a kid, was the last to honor the Riboli family with a placard from the city. The Congressman lovingly referred to San Antonio Winery as “a place of family gatherings and Sunday afternoons… where Los Angeles comes to meet and enjoy its past and plan its future.”
The Ribolis aren’t done celebrating their 100th birthday. Upcoming centennial celebrations include a Prohibition Party at the old Fonda Theatre, a Block Party at the original winery in Downtown L.A. and a Pop-Up History Museum highlighting the unique history of San Antonio Winery.
In closing the celebration, Steve Riboli looked to the future with a message from Papa Stefano and Maddalena. When he asked them what to say when cutting the honorary ribbon they told him, “It’s really simple. Onto another hundred.”