By Nicole Schubert | November 21, 2018 | Food & Drink
With a history that dates back as far as 1946, when Maddalena Riboli founded one of the first tasting rooms in Southern California, this luscious emerald estate has been producing velvet smooth violet wines for generations. And now, over 70 years later, after earning praise from loyal customers and garnering Wine Enthusiast’s 2018 “American Winery of the Year” award, the family dynasty has decided to pay homage to its family matriarch and relaunch its Maddalena brand in honor of the woman whose vision, passion, and determination helped to make Riboli Family Wine Estates an industry pioneer in California.
The Maddalena wine bottle is bedazzled with the brooch that traveled with her on her voyage from Italy to America, while its design represents her elegance, and the wine her strength as a winemaker, mother, and visionary. So, we sat down with Maddalena, to talk about her legacy and newly launched wine, developing one of the oldest wineries in Southern California, and her family’s plans for the future of winemaking.
Maddelena, tell us about San Antonio Winery and how your family has succeeded as a top vineyard for 101 years?
MADDELENA RIBOLI: San Antonio Winery is our family legacy. I began working with my husband Stefano and his uncle Santo in 1946 shortly after my wedding. We all worked together as a team, as we do now. This is the secret to our success.
How did you and Stefano meet? And what was it like to fall in love after immigrating to America?
MR: My husband Stefano and I met at my family’s farm in Chino, east of Los Angeles. He was very impressed that I could drive a tractor. He was ready to marry me at first sight. However, I wanted to make sure that he was the right one. And luckily, he was the right one. It didn’t matter if we were in the USA or Italy, love is love. You have to work hard in your marriage just like your career.
Originally born in Italy, did you always want to be in the wine business? Or did you happen to stumble upon it?
MR: My family farmed corn and other crops in Chino. We were not involved in the wine business at all. Being in the wine business was a direct result of my marriage to Stefano.
It seems as though you made an impression for yourself within the Riboli Family and gained a position of status quickly, what was your first task after being fully integrated into the family business?
MR: My husband’s uncle Santo was very strict and demanding. He didn’t trust me a first. I just needed to show him that I was competent and could help the business. After around a year, uncle Santo was more trustful. I began to handle all the bookkeeping and alcohol taxation for the government.
It was mentioned that Riboli Family Wine Estates initially jumpstarted as a jug wine business in LA for all the Italian railroad workers. Why create jug wine instead of something fancier?
MR: In those days, everyone drank jug wines. Wines were blends of red grapes like Zinfandel, Grenache, Carignane. No one drank wines with the grape varietal on the label. That didn’t exist in 1917. Varietal wines didn’t begin to gain popularity until the 1970’s.
After the immediate success of developing a jug wine business, what were some of the programs and larger visions you created in succession? Were they successful?
MR: As jug wines began to wane in popularity, I pushed my family to invest in vineyards in Napa Valley and Monterey. And to make varietal wines, such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay. We started the brand Maddalena to separate from jug wines under the San Antonio label.
Maddelena, fast-forwarding a few years, you’re now the matriarch of the Riboli family. But what was it like to be a leading female business owner, during an era when women typically were not involved in business at all?
MR: It was very difficult. First, I had to prove my worth to uncle Santo. Then, I had to prove my worth to every male tax collector and BATF agent that visited our winery. However, my goal was always the success of the family and the company. So, I used that strength to persevere and succeed.
For women entering the spirits industry today, what would you say to them?
MR: The wine business is very competitive. However, there are more female owners, winemakers, executives. than ever before. I would say to follow your dreams and never give up.
Today, Riboli Family Wine Estates has purchased vineyards in the Paso Robles region of CA (the new Sonoma) and is planning to open up a new hospitality center and winery in Paso with your help. What are your family's plans for the future? Are they looking towards opening a winery outside of the US?
MR: We firmly believe that Paso Robles is the next major wine region in California, especially for Cabernet Sauvignon. We will continue to grow our California brands such as San Simeon and Maddalena. We currently import the Stella Rosa brand from my native Piedmont, Italy.
In celebration of your vision and passion, your family launched the Maddalena brand of wines, named especially after you! Tell us about these wines! Which is your favorite and why?
MR: This was to separate the San Antonio jug wines from the Maddalena varietal wines. Now, all of our grapes are estate grown in vineyard that we own. I really love the Maddalena Cabernet Sauvignon from Paso Robles: big dark berry characters with oak spice from barrel aging. A great wine!
After reading about your brand, I saw it represents the broach you brought with you to the United States as a young girl. Can you explain what that broach represented for you?
MR: I brought the brooch with me from Italy when I was seven years old. It belonged to my grandmother. It always reminded me of my homeland, but it was also an inspiration to create a new life and legacy in California.
How do you see your own legacy and journey?
MR: I’m very proud of all that my husband and I have built. Seventy-two years of marriage, work, and love! I have no regrets in this great journey. I know that my family is very thankful and proud, and they will continue the legacy for many generations to come.