San Antonio Winery is a Must-See Los Angeles Attraction
Everybody always asks me what there is to do in downtown Los Angeles if one has a couple of hours. My answer is always to visit the San Antonio Winery. The first time I visited was about 11 years ago when I ate at the restaurant and bought some cardinal wine. Since then, San Antonio Winery has expanded and remodelled its wine store and restaurant to have better flow. We decided that it was about time for the rest of the family to visit and also go for the tour that started on the hour. We walked away with a better appreciation for the only winery in Los Angeles as well as the winemaking process.
The tour began in a hallway between the wine store and the restaurant. At that very location was the original location where the original San Antonio Winery house stood. Santo Cambianica founded the winery in 1917 after he arrived in the United States and decided to change his profession from the railway to winery. He decided to buy a small Lamar Street property located in the old Italian District, now Lincoln Height. The San Antonio Winery survived prohibition due to its contract to supply wine to Catholic churches. Because Santo did not have a family, he recruited his nephew Stefano Riobli (see picture above of the family with one of the founders).
We learned that the crushing of the grapes happens in one of their vineyards North of Los Angeles. One of their vineyards is located in Pablo Robles, CA. The juice is then transported to Los Angeles for fermentation. Originally, they were fermented in redwood barrels because this wood could be cut straight, and the barrel could be made with less wine leakage. However, the redwood barrels were never perfectly sealed, and before the Winery moved to stainless steel barrels, visitors were able to sample the wine that leaked from the redwood barrels. The few redwood barrels are now decorative and still smell wonderfully of wine.
White wine can be fermented and stored in the stainless steel tanks longer before they are transferred to French oak barrels, whereas the red wines must be transferred immediately after fermentation into French oak barrels. The date on the labels indicate the year that the grapes are picked. Also, there are regulations regarding how it determines what year is on the label. You typically do not find the mixture of two non-consecutive years. If there are grapes from two consecutive years, the majority must come from a particular year.
Each barrel costs $1000 and holds 60 gallons or 300 bottles of wine. This winery does not burn the inside of the barrel for reuse. Once it is done with a barrel, the winery will sell it for $85, which is quite reasonable since they can still be used to make milder wine. A barrel that held white wine can be used for red wine, but not vice versa because the wine will not stay white. Some will purchase the barrel to cut in half to use as planters. The rows of barrels are very impressive, and interestingly, they have survived all earthquakes, even the 1994 Northridge ones, whereas 80% of the wine bottles at its old store were lost.
I thought the most interesting part was the sampling and grading. The winemakers will taste the wine and grade it. At this winery, the wine ranged from B+ to AAA. No bottle will have 100% AAA. Instead, the percentage of the best wine is mixed with a lower grade to average out the quality and for better overall production.
After the mixing, it is pumped into the bottling room, which is the white room in the warehouse. Afterward, the bottle goes through a foil capping station, then a dressing station (the foil sleeve to cover the top part of the bottle), and then a front and back labelling station. The front label is completely decorative whereas the back label is required by law to include all information, inlcuding the location of the bottling. Marshall, the tour guide, informed us that if a wine bottle says that it was bottled in Los Angeles, it was bottled at San Antonio Winery, which serves private labels, such as Trader Joe's. Finally, the bottles move to a new station that places 4 bottles in a box. This new station lifts a box to meet arms that hold and then drop 4 bottlesat a time. Finally, the boxes move to the end of the production line to meet a lifter that suctions each box and moves it to a vehicle. This lifter eases the employees' backbreaking tasks. If the wine is to be exported, then it is stored in containers of 178 gallons. Finally, all of the bottles have to be inventoried when they leave the warehouse, even if they are to return to the adjacent wine store and restaurant so that they can account the bottles for tax purposes. You need to visit on a weekday other than Friday to see the bottling in action.
Everyone is encouraged to participate in the free wine tasting, three complimentary samples per adult. The employees at the wine counter are very friendly and happily conduct the wine tasting. My husband and I were so surprised because we have been to smaller wineries that expected you to purchase right after tasting or do not offer complimentary sampling. The best part of our visit was meeting Stefano Riboli, who is truly a historic figure in Los Angeles. The next time you are in Los Angeles, I strongly recommend visiting the San Antonio Winery.
Monday - Friday 12 pm - 2 pm on the hour
Saturday - Sunday 11 am - 4 pm on the hour
3 free wine samples
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