Since the San Antonio Winery was started in L.A.’s Little Italy in 1917, four generations of Riboli family members have run their business by pursuing a strategy of logical growth—and the financing to get them there.
The family traces its winemaking roots to Lombardy in Italy where their great-uncle made table wines for his family. When Uncle Santo immigrated to the U.S., he established his winery in three small garages on Lamar Street in the Lincoln Heights section of L.A. And like many other small business owners in the city’s immigrant community, he established a relationship with Bank of Italy, the bank that became Bank of America.
Santo’s fledgling business survived Prohibition by producing wines for churches and local parishes. As demand picked up again after Prohibition, Santo sent for his nephew Stefano Riboli to join him in the business. They made home deliveries and even set up a tasting room so people could try the wines. Stefano’s wife Maddalena had the idea to convert a wine-tasting room to a restaurant, which today seats 400.
Although they were committed to making their wines in downtown L.A., Santo and Stefano started buying vineyards to supply them with a steady harvest. In the ‘60s and ‘70s, the winery began producing varietal wines and buying vineyards in Northern California to supply them with premium grapes.
Third-generation family members Santo, Steve and Cathy joined the business in the late 60s and the 70s, and fourth-generation members Anthony and Michael, Santo’s sons, are involved in winemaking and wholesale sales respectively. The operation today comprises 100,000 square feet of showroom, restaurant, tasting rooms, bottling facility, fermentation and aging cellars, and warehousing. They produce over 500,000 cases of wine a year, from sacramental wines to Napa Cabernets highly rated by The Wine Spectator.
From the beginning, Bank of America has helped finance San Antonio Winery’s growth. The bank has provided treasury and depository management services, short-term working capital to buy grapes, and longer-term financing to acquire vineyards and warehouse space. Says Santo Riboli, “We’re four generations now and we’ve had one bank ‘all our lives.’ The wine business today is very capital intensive, with millions of dollars of inventory. When we want to expand, we have to buy tanks, barrels and equipment. We need financing for our buildings and for real estate acquisitions. As we’ve taken on greater financial responsibility, the bank has always been there to help us.”
Today, San Antonio Winery remains the last producing winery in L.A., located in the same community and on the same street on which it was founded. The company has over 100 employees, many who have been with the company for over two decades. Says Elaine Colgate, a Bank of America Client Manager and the head of the bank team that supports the winery, “I think for Bank of America to have a loyal customer for 95 years speaks volumes. It tells you that we trust the family and they trust us. When you think about the number of employees they have, the real estate ventures that are generating tax dollars for the community, and their involvement with charitable organizations and schools, they have a big impact on the community.”
In 1963, the San Antonio Winery was designated a cultural monument by the L.A. Cultural Heritage Board. Says Santo, “It’s hard to imagine that in my uncle’s and father’s day the foothills of Los Angeles were places to grow olives and grapes, just like in Europe. We’re proud to be a little bit of that history.”
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