When Santo Cambianica opened his winery in downtown Los Angeles in 1917, little did he know that the U.S. alcohol industry was just a few years from essentially being issued a death sentence — at least from a legal perspective.
In 1919 — just two years after Cambianica founded San Antonio Winery — Congress enacted the Volstead Act, which carried out the intent of the 18th Amendment to establish Prohibition in the United States. Effective January 1920, all manufacture, transport, and sale of alcoholic beverages were federally prohibited.
The new law obviously created a serious issue for Cambianica, who had emigrated from Italy and arrived on Ellis Island in 1910, in pursuit of a better life. The 35-year-old journeyed across the U.S. and settled in Southern California, where he began working toward his dream of producing delicious Italian table wine for his new community. He started his company just a few years later after his arrival in three small garages, dedicating it to his patron St. Anthony of Padua.
To keep his fledgling business alive, Cambianica had to get resourceful and, as a devout Catholic, he prayed.
“It was a very difficult time — over 100 wineries were located in the city of Los Angeles prior to Prohibition and fewer than 10 survived after it,” said San Antonio Winery President Santo Riboli, Cambianica’s great-nephew.
Cambianica’s prayers were seemingly answered when the Archdiocese of Los Angeles granted him permission to continue to produce wine, albeit for sacramental and ceremonial purposes. As the impact of Prohibition took its toll on the majority of his competitors, Cambianica’s relationship with the church saved his winery.
After more than a decade of mixed results, Prohibition was repealed in 1933, and Cambianica was well positioned to take advantage of a suddenly available marketplace.
Cambianica soon began apprenticing his nephew, Stefano Riboli, to help him run the company. Together, the two grew and innovated the winery for more than 20 years — opening one of California’s first wine tasting rooms in 1948.
Cambianica passed away in 1956, leaving final wishes that his nephew continue the company for the next generation. Riboli and his wife, Maddalena, took over full ownership that year.
“My Great Uncle Santo was a very hard worker and shrewd businessman, which certainly had a strong influence on my parents when they took over the company,” Riboli said. “However, my parents also created their own vision for the company — it’s how our company has continued to evolve and survive from generation to generation."
Today, San Antonio Winery, which is a Wells Fargo Wholesale business customer, sits in its original location and is the oldest winery in Los Angeles. The company also owns and operates vineyards in Paso Robles, Monterey, and Napa Valley — covering more than 1,000 acres of California’s Northern and Central Coasts.
“In business, it’s all about listening to our clients to understand what is important to them,” said Daniel Hong, Wells Fargo Middle Market relationship manager. “Our fit with San Antonio Winery developed from the human connection we created with the Riboli family by sitting down with them to learn what their previous bank wasn’t providing and what Wells Fargo could do better.”
The Paso Robles location features eco-friendly, sustainable technology, including the ability to reclaim all processed wastewater and stormwater for onsite irrigation. Riboli said the state-of-the-art facility is an ode to his mother’s influence on the company: “My mom has always encouraged us to try new ideas.”
Those new ideas and results have not gone unnoticed: Wine Enthusiast magazine recently named the company its 2018 American Winery of the Year.
“We are certainly humbled and honored to receive the award, especially considering that there are over 8,000 bonded wineries in the U.S. today,” said Riboli. “Our family and employees have always worked together as a team — undoubtedly, this incredible teamwork has allowed us to receive such an awesome award.”