August 03, 2018

Photo Essay: Downtown LA's Last Historic Winery, A Century In the Making

I'm remiss in celebrating the centennial of one of LA's treasured landmarks, an "urban winery" that began 100 years ago when the area wasn't quite as citified as it is today.

Italian immigrant Santo Cambianica founded San Antonio Winery in 1917. Not the best timing for him, as it was just two years before the passing of the Volstead Act that legalized a national ban on the production, importation, transportation and sale of alcoholic beverages.

However, during Prohibition (which lasted for more than a dozen years), San Antonio Winery was able to flourish by evoking a backdoor workaround: It became the number-one provider of altar wines.

The Archdiocese of Los Angeles granted Santo permission to make wines for sacramental and ceremonial purposes...

...which makes sense, since the California wine tradition began with the Franciscan Fathers of the early Spanish Missions.

Before Prohibition, the wine industry had become one of Southern California's most economically significant and popular industries.

For a time in the late 19th century, Los Angeles was the premier viticultural area for grape growing and winemaking in all of California.

Now, most people wouldn't think of LA as home to any vineyards or vintners. And Southern California as a whole isn't known for it nearly as much as the Napa and Sonoma Valleys are in Northern California.

But over a century later, San Antonio Winery still sits on its original location on Lamar Street..

...the last vestige of the rich winemaking tradition of the greater Los Angeles...

...and the oldest producing winery in LA.

Named after Saint Anthony, patron saint of lost items—not Saint Vincent, patron saint of winemaking—San Antonio might have ensured that it wouldn't become a "lost" part of LA like the rest of the city's wine industry, just through its nomenclature.

And how! Its Italian-style Stella Rosa wine label is wildly popular and sold at huge big-box stores like Walmart and Target.

And it has diversified its offerings into California varietals, semi-sweet wines, and dessert wines.

I've had the fun and pleasure of taking the winery tour and doing the tasting twice now (the second time springing for the artisanal "premium" tasting, which I found far superior).

It's not so much that I love the wine. And I'll generally opt to try someplace new rather than become a regular at any one place. But I'd like to see this family-run business stay in business.

And I'd like to see more wine coming out of LA again. (Stay tuned for dispatches from LA's newest winery!)

All photos above circa 2016

Related Posts:
A Nearly-Lost French Vineyard Grows in the Glendale Foothills
Photo Essay: Mission San Fernando Rey de EspaƱa (Updated)
Photo Essay: The Terroir of Baja Wine Country
Photo Essay: Brooklyn Winery, Under Construction

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