Stefano Riboli, the vintner who shepherded San Antonio Winery in Los Angeles from World War II to the 21st century, died on July 3, at home surrounded by family. He was 97.
“Our family is deeply saddened by the loss of our patriarch Stefano Riboli,” says his grandson Anthony Riboli.
He also said that his grandfather, who was known to many as Papa Steve, continued to visit the tasting room and bistro many times each week until soon before he died.
“Stefano certainly played an integral role in the growth and success of our company. However, his greatest legacy was his incredible persona. Always humble and hardworking, he was endeared by literally everyone he met from employees to tasting room patrons. He was a friend to all. He will be greatly missed,” says Anthony Riboli.
Though born in Los Angeles, Riboli moved to Italy when he was three years old and lived there until he was 16.
He then returned to Los Angeles to work for his uncle Santo Cambianica, who founded San Antonio Winery in 1917.
Cambianica began making wine on Lamar Street in the Lincoln Heights community of downtown Los Angeles for the Italian and French railroad workers.
The winery survived Prohibition by producing altar wine, and the company’s headquarters, tasting room and bistro remain in the same location today.
During a vineyard visit in 1946, Stefano Riboli met Maddalena Satragni, and they married that year.
A decade later when Cambianica died, Stefano and Maddalena Riboli took over the winery, and eventually open a dozen tasting rooms across Southern California.
In 1972, they opened Maddalena, likely the first winery-restaurant in America, and its lunch crowd is still bustling today.
During the ’70s and ’80s, San Antonio Winery planted vineyards in Napa and throughout Monterey County.
The winery also launched a higher end brand called San Simeon, one of many labels to come. In 2003, San Antonio began selling the sparkling wine brand Stella Rosa, which is now advertised on billboards across the country and amounts to about 2.5 million cases per year.
In 2012, vineyards named Stefano and Maddalena were planted in their honor in Paso Robles, which also welcomed the family’s state-of-the-art winery facility in 2016. Today, the more than 20 brands under the Riboli Family umbrella clock in at about 500,000 cases of wine per year.
In their 73 years together, Stefano and Maddalena Riboli had three children, who all work at the winery, and many grandchildren, some of whom are also now in the family business.
“He had an incredible life,” says Anthony Riboli, who noted that Stefano was extremely proud to have been named Wine Enthusiast’s American Winery of the Year in 2018.
“The winery and the success of the business is a huge thing, but it’s more about his personality. I don’t think there was anyone who didn’t love him, and that’s pretty rare.”