I have lived in Los Angeles my entire life, minus the few years working as a reporter back east in my early 20s. Still, there are times I visit hidden gems around the City and I sit back and think to myself, “Now, why don’t I come here more often?” It could be a quiet cove in the Malibu beach area or the gardens at the Huntington Library. I had that same wondrous feeling this past weekend when Art and I visited the San Antonio Winery in the northeast outskirts of Downtown LA.
An Historic Landmark
The winery is essentially all that’s left of LA’s Little Italy and is the last producing winery in Los Angeles. According to an article on the KCET website, when Lombardy-born Santo Cambianica founded The San Antonio Winery in 1917, Los Angeles was home to 92 bonded wineries. Prohibition (I am still dumbfounded that this country would even allow such an atrocity to occur) enacted in 1920, most of the vintners survived by selling legal grape concentrates that fueled a robust bootlegging industry. Eventually, most of them shut down. But not the San Antonio Winery. Get this: The San Antonio Winery survived by producing communion wine. Now, those were some smart and resourceful Italian Catholics!
Today, San Antonio has expanded to higher quality wines and the building is home to an Italian restaurant, gift shop and banquet hall.
They import their grapes from Napa, Monterey and the Paso Robles region on California’s Central Coast, and make, blend and age their wines on site. Situated on Lamar Street off of Main Street in an industrial neighborhood, San Antonio was named a Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument No. 42 in 1966. San Antonio produces over 900,000 cases of wine each year and owns 18 various labels, putting it in the top 25 of wine sales in California.
Wine Tasting & Classes
We were invited for a wine and cheese pairing class featuring eight wine varieties along with fine cheeses and small bites. It was a room filled with about 70 people. I loved how when we first sat down everyone around the table kept to themselves and were reserved. Well, that didn’t last too long! An hour into the tastings and the room came alive with chatter and the cheese expert/sommelier and wine tasting room manager speaking a bit louder just to be heard. It was a great time meeting new wine and cheese lovers and sharing our tasting notes.
We tasted a surprisingly refreshing Windstream Chardonnay, Santa Lucia Highlands 2011 that had a strong note of crisp apple vs. buttery oak. From there we moved on to a Heritage Red from Paso Robles that floated hints of black cherry and subtle earth tones. Cleverly, the winery paired the robust red with a fresh lentil salad with sheep’s milk feta and fresh bruschetta on a Romaine lettuce leaf — so simple, yet so incredibly tasty.
Complimentary Wine Tasting
Speaking of taste, the winery’s newly expanded tasting room is much larger than when I was there a few years back. And, get this, three complimentary wine tastings for every person! Yes, as in Free. Booze. Girl! The friendly and handsome pourers offer just enough to whet your thirst and make you crave more. San Antonio sells imported wines as well as those from the company. We loved that it offers wines from Baja California, ironically a rare find in LA. Other wines go to the food-service industry for use in products such as wine salad dressings.
Today, the winery has a cheese store and café and a retail store selling all things wine related from cork screws, cheese boards, aprons, wine racks, to Stella Rosa lip balm. I had to get my hands on a few of those as I love me some good lip balm. Art just rolled his eyes.
A Family Tradition
Owned and operated by four generations of the Riboli Family since its founding, the original San Antonio Winery in Los Angeles still sits on the same plot of land where the winery was first built. San Antonio patriarch Stefano Riboli, 91, or “Papa” as the staffs so sweetly call him, and his wife, Maddalena, both still work at the winery, as they have for decades. Apparently, Stefano goes there daily, and, I believe it because the last time I was visiting in 2013 he was sitting in the back corner of the tasting room introducing me to the bargain bin – WINE ON CLEARANCE! You get some great deals and he helps you select the perfect wines.
San Antonio Winery does offer tours of their downtown LA winery. Call 323-223-1401 for more information on schedules. The address is 737 Lamar St., Los Angeles, Ca.