I love how wine continues to evolve, how every time I open a bottle it’s going to taste different than if I had opened it on any other day. Because a bottle of wine is actually alive —it’s constantly evolving and gaining complexity. That is, until it peaks —like your ‘61 —and begins its steady, inevitable decline. And it tastes so … good! Maya, Sideways (2004)
Who doesn’t remember watching two men embark on a week long road trip through California’s wine country in the truly vintage comedy Sideways? I remember the first thing I did after seeing the movie was plan my next vacation to central California in search of the perfect wine, great pairings and memorable times. Little did I know, I didn’t have to drive 400 miles a little over 6 hours to visit a winery, we can take a Sideways turn right of the 5 FWY tucked away in the middle of Downtown Los Angeles, San Antonio Winery!
California, the sunshine state, with year-round good weather, has been prime location for winemaking beginning with the Franciscan Fathers of the early Spanish Missions since the 1700s. Abundant sunshine ensures a consistent and long grape growing season, a variety of wine-grape and surprising flavor variations are achieved from our year-round Mediterranean climate. In 1833 grapes were introduced and planted in Downtown Los Angeles, thereafter, the wine industry quickly became one of SoCal’s most economically significant and popular industries driving many Europeans to our city. Santo Cambianica was one of those men that saw a great opportunity in these lands and on 1917 founded the San Antonio Winery on Lamar Street, dedicating it to his Patron Saint Anthony.
Upon Santo’s passing his nephew Stefano Riboli and his wife Maddalena Riboli with a powerful vision for his future and his family took over the business. Nearing its 100th birthday and four generations of family contribution to success, San Antonio Winery has survived prohibition, the Great Depression, World War II, and remains the oldest largest producing winery in Los Angeles. Named a local Cultural Monument that vestige the rich winemaking tradition of Los Angeles.
It was a wonderful surprise to discover such a gem in DTLA, so I made my way to Lamar Street. Hidden in the industrial area of north downtown, the winery offers a large tasting room, retail store, private party rooms, wine classes, and a delightful restaurant. Our adventure began with an amazing lunch at Maddalena Restaurant, which serves an array of delicious and flavorful dishes in a cafeteria style. Followed by an informative Wine Tasting by shop manager Dominic, with a great selection of wines separated into “sweet” and “dry”. He was very informative and knowledgeable in all spirits with a long history of working with wine, he even showed us how to pick up on the various notes of flavors in different kinds of wine. His great personality and wonderful customer service made the tasting an enjoyable experience.
Ready for our Winery Tour we headed on a journey back in time learning about the rich history and the important role San Antonio played in shaping the City of Los Angeles and the California wine industry. We worked our way through the stainless steel blending tanks, to the barrel room in where you can experience tasting directly from the aging barrels, and learned how wine is made, bottled and manufactured. Did you know San Antonio Winery bottles over 30,000-40,000 bottles per day? That is about 2,500 cases per day and over a million cases per year! San Antonio winery is the 24th largest alcohol manufacturer in the US.
The highlight of our tour was to learn first-hand how wine is made directly by Arnaud Debons, winemaker at San Antonio Winery. Arnaud worked in Bordeaux and Cahors regions of France prior to moving to the US and has been at San Antonio since 2003. What is the creative process of making wine? We grab the grapes at Paso Robles, check for the right maturity, then ferment to transform the sugar in the grapes to alcohol in the wine, second fermentation for acidity for bacteria, and then the wine is placed in barrels for aging. I take about 79 barrels to taste and select which one would be good for different blends. Then make a sample depending on the blend I’m looking for. I taste one by one for the proper proportions needed to make the blend…and that’s how it’s done in a nutshell. What is your favorite grape? The Merlot, since the movie “Sideways” Merlot was really pushed down, all Merlot in Paso Robles is really interesting, I think the complexity of the Merlot is way more interesting than the Pinot with power and complexity, Pinot is lighter softer…each wine has a time to be drink and food to be paired with.
The old concept of the wine making for me is to respect what your grapes give you to make the wine, you don’t try to make French wine in CA or CA wine in France, you have to respect what you get from the grapes and from there you work it out to where you can.
There’s a winery in DTLA! San Antonio Winery our Local Sideways turn in the heart of Downtown Los Angeles, a great place to enjoy the Holidays with family and friends or a great hang out spot for happy hour with coworkers, as Anthony Riboli said, “Wine is about the fun of family and friends all together.”
“The grape is the only fruit that God gave the sense to know what it was made for.” Philippe Rambeau, This Earth is Mine (1959)