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Century-old casks line the winery’s restaurant, built inside its 1940s redwood wine tank room. (Gilles Mingasson)

Saved From Prohibition by Holy Wine

In downtown Los Angeles, a 95-year-old winery weathered hard times by making wine for church services. Now connoisseurs are devoted to it

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Mercifully gone are beverages of the Prohibition days, when altar and medicinal wines were “kind of like aJägermeister thing,” says Riboli. Instead these are sacramental wines that could happily do dinner duty, maybe with a plate of the pasta that is made daily in Maddalena Riboli’s restaurant, which opened in 1974 in a former fermenting room.

“The reason we exist today is because of Prohibition,” says Steve Riboli, after threading his way through the network of barrels and cases and bottles and fermenting tanks that form his family’s universe to come to rest near his father, now 90, who is seated in the wine shop, near the door that leads out to the parking lot and, beyond that, to 21st-century L.A.

Stefano Riboli points to the concrete a few feet away and remembers the railroad that nearly came up to where his feet are now. He remembers the night he first arrived in L.A. in 1936, when his uncle showed him his “villa,” a garage with two ramshackle beds. He looks around at his business, thriving in a place where you would not have expected it to thrive, still incongruous in the urban landscape.

“We’ve endured,” says Steve Riboli.

Photographer Gilles Mingasson, a frequent contributor to Smithsonian, lives in Los Angeles.

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