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by Fred McMillin
and the role of Saints in
Friends of Francis
St. Francis of Assisi (in central Italy) founded the Order of the Franciscan friars about 1220 A.D. One of his friends at the time became the role model for the leader of Los Angeles' first winemakers. Another friend became the idol of the founder of what today is the last Los Angeles winery.
Let's meet the two friends of Francis.
The Root of the First Los Angeles Winemakers
Let's call him Friend X of St. Francis. Francis loved X's devotion to the poor and his sense of humor. Some 500 years later, a theology professor on Mallorca so admired Friar X that he assumed X's name, which was Junipero (who-nee-pay-roh). Hence, Miguel Jose Serra changed his name to Junipero Serra. He led the first winemakers into California. and it was in the Los Angeles area where they made the most wine, at Mission San Gabriel...three wine presses...400 barrels of wine a year...plus 200 barrels of brandy.
The Roots of the Last Los Angeles Winery
Back to Assisi in 1220. Another of St. Francis' friends, just as important as Junipero, was a thoughtful young man from Portugal. His name was Anthony (originally Fernand). His goal was simply to be the humble companion of Francis. But he turned out to be one of the most skilled orators of the Middle Ages. In time, Francis sent him to the town of Padua (PAD-you-ah), west of Venice, to teach theology to the friars. At this time the University of Padua was founded. (You may have heard of the professor of astronomy there a few centuries later... Galileo!) It was there he died, St. Anthony of Padua. Now we fast forward to 1917 in the City of the Angels.
Just as the Los Angeles area had made the most California wine a century earlier, in 1917 the area was again the California leader with ninty one bonded wineries. Nevertheless, Santo Cambianica (photo taken that year) set up a winery in an empty boxcar. What name to give it? Piece of cake. Santo had immigrated from Padua. Hence, the name painted on the boxcar was the San Antonio Winery. Who would have guessed that in the year 2001 only the winery of St. Anthony would have survived?
Whence the Grapes?
A friendly neighbor let Santo plant wine vines in his backyard...the winery's first vineyard. However, when your winery is located near Civic Center, those backyard vineyards are long gone. Today, the winery grapes come from 16 vineyards in five California counties. The jewel is the 16 acres purchased in 1986...Napa Valley's prime Cabernet Sauvignon district of Rutherford produces their top Cabernet, from the Riboli Family Vineyard. Riboli family??
By 1936 Santo's business was so good, he asked his nephew, Stephano Riboli, to come from Italy to help. It worked out well, and in 1955 Stephano assumed the helm of San Antonio. Meanwhile, he had married Maddalena (she resisted for a year since she was suspicious of such a charming "city slicker"). Today the next two Riboli generations are deeply involved in the winery. E.g., grandnephew Anthony Riboli is the chief winemaker (U.C.-Davis,. Enology).
Just the Facts
San Antonio Winery (pictured)
Wines—For my wine history courses, in 1989 I bought a case of their Muscat dessert wine. It was popular then, and the latest release is even better ...more of that unique Muscat aroma and more delicate on the palate. If you prefer reds, try one of their Cabs. Good values; we'll report more on them later.
Postscript—A Final Word on St. Anthony
Anthony left such an impression on Padua that there is even a local dish named for him: Piedi di Maiale alla Sant' Antonio,...breaded pig's feet with cucumbers and truffles.
Also, yesterday was the "Feast Day of Antony(sic) of Padua." He died in the town on June 13, 1231.
On July 14, 1771, Father Junipero Serra personally founded a new mission...Mission San Antonio de Padua!
This page created June 2001