San Antonio Winery entrance Lincoln Heights

Lincoln Heights -- The patriarch of the San Antonio Winery, Stefano Riboli, known affectionately as Papa Steve, died earlier this month at the age of 97.

For decades Riboli greeted patrons at the sprawling Lincoln Heights winery with a smile and glass of wine, becoming the face of the venerable Los Angeles institution.

“The winery was truly his home and he worked hard to make it feel like home for all his customers,” the winery posted on Instagram, announcing his July 3 death.

The family-run business, where he started working at the age of 16, eventually grew into five vineyards and two other locations. The Eastside winery, the oldest in continuous operation in L.A., is a historic landmark.

He was born in Los Angeles in 1921. Three years later, his parents returned to a small Italian mountain village, where Riboli spent summers shepherding sheep, according to his family. But at age 16, Riboli was sent back to Los Angeles to live with his uncle Santo Cambianica, who owned a small winery on Lamar Street in Lincoln Heights, then the center of the city’s Italian community. As a result, he avoided being conscripted into Mussolini’s army, according to Vice magazine.

 "It was just me and my uncle," Riboli told Vice in a 2016 interview. "There was no help."

Cambianica mentored the young boy at the winery, which prospered during prohibition through its relationships with the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles, which bought his sacramental table wines.

Riboli met his wife, Maddalena Satragni,  on her family farm in Chino. They were married in 1946 and raised their three children a few blocks from the winery.

Riboli, his wife and eventually his children ran the winery for decades as the family businesses blossomed. Riboli passed away one year after Wine Enthusiast magazine named the Lincoln Heights winemaker as "American Winery of the Year."

“Their love for each other was beyond words and they were a great example of teamwork and commitment, always supporting each other’s decisions whether at home or at work,” his family wrote.

The winery will be closed on Monday, July 22 in his honor and a service will be held beginning at 9:30 a.m. at Saint Peter’s Italian Catholic Church, 1039 N. Broadway, Los Angeles, CA 90012. The family is asking in lieu of flowers donations be made to Saint Peter’s Italian Catholic Church in memory of Stefano Riboli.

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