The San Antonio Winery is the oldest producing winery in Los Angeles, with more than 100 years of winemaking history. Family-owned for four generations, the winery dates back to 1917 when the company’s founder, Santo Cambianica, first established the business in Downtown Los Angeles.
Cambianica hailed from a small mountain town in Fermo, Italy, and immigrated to America in the early 1900s with his cousin and two brothers. After working on the railroads for a period, the Cambianica brothers decided to try winemaking—eventually founding the winery. As a devout Catholic family, they dedicated it to Cambianica’s Patron Saint, Anthony — hence the name, “San Antonio Winery.”
Cathy Riboli, Vice President of San Antonio Winery and 3rd generation member of the business, shares deeper insight into the rich history of her family’s company, including its humble beginnings.
Keeping it in the Family
“The San Antonio Winery is our family’s company,” says Riboli. “We’re growers, and we’re farmers, we’re essential workers. Santo Cambianica and his brothers came to America seeking new beginnings. The area was full of immigrants from France, Italy, and Spain. In addition to working the railroads, he thought ‘what else can I do?’”
The three men began to make wine and sell it to the local churches. After seven years in Los Angeles, Santo’s brothers returned to Italy, but he stayed in the U.S. to continue his winemaking endeavors. As his family expanded, so did the winery’s business.
“My dad came into the business at just 14,” recalls Riboli. “We’re currently in the fourth generation, our children all work in the business in various departments.”
Through Trying Times Comes Plenty of Wine
Throughout the generations, the San Antonio Winery family has overcome its fair share of adversity. First, the business pushed through the Great Depression, and then survived WWII. Even during prohibition, the business flourished when the team pivoted to become the number one provider of altar wines in the Greater Los Angeles area.
Now, the family has now taken on the COVID-19 pandemic with the support of their children and the lasting generations of devoted customers.
“We’re proud of our heritage and we’re proud of our community,” says Riboli. “They have been loyal supporters to us even during the time of the pandemic.”
Riboli shares some of the challenges the team has overcome together this past year and emphasizes the importance of their employees to their success as the group works not just as a team, but as a family.
“We have a strong relationship with our employees. Some of them have been with us for as long as 34 years. We’re blessed. We’ve had many challenges but we’re thankful that our family has supported 325 employees.
When the pandemic first hit, the winery team knew their employees needed somewhere reliable and safe to buy essentials such as toilet paper and meat, while supplies were running low at local stores. The winery stepped up and pivoted toward acting as a grocer, in addition to selling their wines.
“We turned our restaurant into a marketplace which is what it was like 50 years ago,” says Riboli. “We sold milk, bread, butter, pasta, toilet paper and onions – everything our employees would need at a market. We knew they needed to have access to these goods. At the beginning of the pandemic, we also fed our employees lunch every day, seven days a week for the first eight months — and then about three months ago we switched over to one day a week.”
Riboli attributes the team’s dynamic and flexible nature to their superior work ethic and collective, family-driven mentality.
Since al fresco dining has recently taken over Greater Los Angeles, the winery added an outdoor patio to accommodate more outside space to enjoy their food and drink. They’ve created “flights to go,” so that customers can take the different varietals of wine home with them at an affordable price.
Even though the business has been faring well through teamwork and adaptability, Riboli reminisces about her fondness of the days when the venue was able to host large on-site events and gatherings of local families in Greater Los Angeles who would come together for group parties and celebrations.
“We had enough seating for 500 people. Sometimes we were able to host multi-generational events. Whether it was an anniversary, or a birthday, a girls’ gathering – we hope to get aback to these events in some capacity, soon,” she says.
The San Antonio Family Winery remains steadfast to its origins and customers. The business continues to generate innovative approaches to staying in touch with its wine family.
“We have to stay firm, confident and resilient and believe that things will get better. Everyone is looking for a good day tomorrow,” says Riboli.
When SoCal Explorers take the train to San Antonio Winery and show their loyalty card or same day Metrolink ticket, they will receive a free glass of Maddalena wine, Bodega Sangria or soda fountain drink with purchase of an entrée.