May 1, 2020

LA’s Oldest Winery Survived Prohibition, the Great Depression, and World Wars, and Is Now Thriving During the Pandemic

Throughout its 102-year-old history, San Antonio Winery has always adjusted to the times through business savvy, relationships, timing, and sheer luck

The food and beverage industries in Los Angeles are on uncertain ground. As the coronavirus pandemic stretches into its third month, dining rooms remain closed, sales have cratered, and the vast majority of restaurant workers have been laid off. But for San Antonio Winery, LA’s oldest winery, business has never been better.

Americans have been drinking record amounts at home, and the family-owned winery is one of the beneficiaries of the booze boom — according to Steve Riboli, the company’s vice president and a member of the family, the company has seen a 200 percent increase in wine sales over the last two months. “With all the garbage that’s going on in the world, I’m embarrassed and pinching myself that we’ve had an amazing March,” says Riboli. “We’ve endured so many things in our history and we’ve gone through some really bad times. I think we just adapt.”

The family-run winery opened in 1917, expanded during and after Prohibition, survived the Great Depression, witnessed two World Wars, the Watts Riots, and LA’s massive social unrest in 1992. During each of these historic moments, San Antonio Winery survived through sheer will, flexibility, a little bit of luck, and society’s consistent demand for alcohol. And over the last 17 years, it built California’s best-selling wine brand, Stella Rosa — a line of sweet, low-alcohol Italian wines (and lip balm), some with less-than-traditional added flavors like tropical mango, green apple, or watermelon.

Best described as a wine producer, wholesaler, and retailer, staff at the showroom sell wine from notable and competing vineyards, or one of the Riboli family’s varietals. On average, it sells 500,000 cases of wine per year. Since cities adjusted to new social restrictions, the shipping room has been buzzing louder than usual with workers, forklifts, and wine machines. These machines take ripened grapes from one of the family vineyards in Paso Robles, Monterey, or Napa Valley.