San Antonio Winery - Camden Court Wines
Central Coast AVA
From historical perspective, in the late 1700s Southern California was home to hundreds of thousands of grapevines
Even the storied Gallo, Mondavi and Sebastiani wine clans would be hard pressed to consider themselves fourth generation wine descendents, but a little known Southern California family named Riboli (pronounced ree-bow-lee) is arguably one of the longest tenured families actively engaged in today's modern wine industry.
From historical perspective, in the late 1700s Southern California was home to hundreds of thousands of grapevines, predating the vineyards of Northern California's Napa and Sonoma Counties. By the mid-1800s, as many as 45 wineries had made their presence in the Los Angeles area producing 4 to 5 million gallons of wine annually. The center of most of this activity was downtown Olivera Street where the Italian immigrants were making wine. This was where California's commercial wine industry truly began.
San Antonio Winery was founded back in 1917 when Santo Cambianica immigrated to America from the Lombardy Region of Italy. Predictably, he settled in the Italian District in Los Angeles, an area now known as Lincoln Heights.
Santo initially hired on as a boilermaker for the Southern Pacific railroad and eventually saved enough money to buy a small piece of property on Lamar Street. There he hauled in an abandoned railcar and on the side painted "San Antonio Winery," the name of Santo's patron saint.
In early 1919, with the beginnings of Prohibition looming, Santo negotiated a contract enabling him to supply altar wines to the Catholic Church. That shrewd move allowed San Antonio Winery to not only survive Prohibition, but also prosper. Amazingly, production grew from 2,500 cases to a whopping 25,000 cases by the end of Prohibition in 1933. At that point, Santo asked his nephew Stefano Riboli, to help him run the winery. Stefano, who was born in Los Angeles but at age 4, had returned to Italy with his family, returned to America in 1936.
A decade later, Santo introduced his nephew to a young lady named Maddalena, who was working as a sharecropper at nearby Guasti Vineyards, known then as the world's largest vineyard. "I was immediately struck by her beauty," recalls Stefano. "But I also knew she was a hard worker by the way she handled a tractor!"
The two married and Maddalena quickly added an important ingredient to the company-marketing. Maddalena initiated the opening of what may have been the first commercial wine-tasting room in California. As more customers became aware of their wines the tasting room expanded in size and scope. Maddalena decided to start selling sandwiches to accommodate the throngs of hungry folks who stopped by during the lunch hour. By 1975, the tasting room deli had become so popular, Maddalena convinced the rest of the family that she needed the adjacent fermentation room to open up a restaurant. To this day, the 350-seat Maddalena Restaurant at the winery is one of the most popular lunch spots in downtown Los Angeles.
The San Antonio Winery operations have changed significantly over their 85-year history. They still produce the generic Burgundy, Chianti, and Chablis type of wines that were the lifeblood of the early days because there is still a demand for them. But as the public's taste in wines began to change so did the winery's focus.
In the 1970s the winery began producing ultra-premium wines under a new Riboli Family Vineyard label. These premium varietal wines are a product of vineyards they acquired in the Salinas Valley and Napa Valley. This new direction led to the establishment of additional brands of high quality wines including names such as San Simeon, Maddalena and Santo Stefano, the latter a combined tribute to Santo Cambianica and Stefano Riboli. This month's offering of Camden Court wines represents another high tier offering in the winery's growing palette of selections. The Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon hails from Napa Valley's Rutherford appellation from the Riboli's own vineyard acquired in 1985. The Reserve Chardonnay comes from Santa Barbara's Bien Nacido Vineyard and the Riboli family's Loma Vista Vineyard in Monterey County.
Fourth generation winemaker, Anthony Riboli sums it up by stating, "We're very proud of our heritage, but we're not stuck in the past." The future prospects of a continuing family enterprise looks promising when you also consider that among the Riboli siblings, Santo, Steve and Cathy, there are 10 fourth generation Riboli children age 10 to 27, who will someday take the reins. Meanwhile, generations two and three continue to guide the amazing, thriving San Antonio Winery, the sole surviving winery operation in Los Angeles.
Handing down the winery reigns through the generations
It is fairly rare that three generations can be found actively working in the same business within the wine industry, but the modern San Antonio Winery in Southern California can boast just that. Founded in 1917 by Santo Cambianica, an immigrant from the Lombardy Region in Italy, on a spot believed to be in close proximity to the first commercially planted vineyard in the Golden State, the winery is about five minutes from the present site of the gigantic Los Angeles Convention Center. By 1920, nearly 100 wineries were actively engaged in business in the Los Angeles area alone. Today, San Antonio Winery remains as the only producing winery in Los Angeles.
At its inception, the winery produced several generic wines and was able to survive the era of Prohibition by supplying altar wines for the Catholic Church. When prohibition was finally removed, the San Antonio Winery was in a perfect position to compete in the changing wine industry of the 1930's. Shortly thereafter, Santo Cambianica's nephew, Stefano Riboli (pronounced ree-bow-lee) joined the winery. He remains at San Antonio today along with a number of other family members who work in the multi faceted business.
Today's modern San Antonio Winery also boasts a first class restaurant named Maddalena, lovingly named after Santo's wife who along with daughter Cathy still runs the operation on a daily basis. Both Maddalena and Santo are approaching 80 and still put in full days at the winery. Stefano Riboli's son Santo serves as the President of the business; another son, Steve Riboli Jr. is the winery's Vice President.
The future of San Antonio Winery and Riboli Family Estates along with its growing number of brands will eventually be in the hands of Anthony Riboli, fourth generation family member at San Antonio Winery and winemaker of this month's featured Camden Court wines.
A great deal of the winery's current focus centers on 27-year-old Anthony Riboli, grandson of the winery's original founders. Anthony Riboli is a vital component of San Antonio's future planning, and an individual who comes complete with a master's degree in Enology from the University of California Davis that he earned in 1998.
To the youthful Riboli, the future of his family's business can be found in its history, and the actual spirit of togetherness his family has demonstrated over the past ten decades of its existence. "Our family remains to this day an extremely tight unit," Anthony Riboli explained. "Each of us lives within ten minutes of each other and we all live within ten minutes of the winery. There exists a commitment on each of our parts to see that we accomplish what we set out to do."
But a great deal of responsibility will be left to the youthful Anthony Riboli to continue the Riboli family's fortunes into the new millennium. He must first convince everyone involved that his ideas are worth doing. "I am fortunate that our family is cognizant to the changes that are occurring within the wine industry," he explained further. "Individual estate vineyards such as the ones in Napa Valley and Monterey that produce the Camden Court wines are necessary for our continued expansion and growth. My father Santo and our Family all agree these premier vineyards ensure us the ultimate levels of grape quality. Each has a distinct personality and its up to us to bring that particular personality to the forefront."
The Camden Court wines bear little comparison to their better known San Antonio generic and varietal cousins, and Anthony Riboli acknowledges his Family's awareness of the latest buzz and trend types that seem to proliferate wine shelves throughout California and elsewhere. "Today's modern wine industry is evolving and we want to be part of that evolution." "As long as I am involved in the winery, we will produce exemplary individualistic wines," he added.
Was it easy convincing everyone in the family circle that a formula proven to be quite rewarding over the decades was in need of renaissance’ Riboli conceded that some family members were easier to convince than others but in the end, the consensus of the group was that new measures must be undertaken to continue the business's upward spiral.
What's next on the agenda for Anthony Riboli’ No new projects for the foreseeable future he readily informed us. He is currently way too busy insuring that some of his pet projects reach the levels he has realistically set for them. After that, he grinned with an amused twinkle in his eye, indicating there might just be room for a new idea or two.