I’ve often said that “wine country” is where you find it. You don’t have to go to the Napa Valley in order to have a memorable wine experience.
For proof, I give you downtown Los Angeles.
Yes, L.A. La-La Land.
The city that’s known for being at the forefront of cultural trends just happens to be home to two historic businesses where wine takes center stage. One, believe it or not, is a working winery; the other is a venerable restaurant.
In 1917, Santo Cambianica left his home in the northern Italian province of Lombardy and settled in the bustling Italian-American community in Los Angeles. On Lamar Street, he founded the San Antonio Winery.
Just three years later, however, Prohibition jolted the wine industry. The majority of L.A. wineries closed forever, but Santo requested permission from the Catholic Church to make sacramental wines. The church granted his request, and San Antonio Winery was able to survive.
Today, San Antonio Winery remains as the only producing winery in Los Angeles. Still in its original location on Lamar Street, it is the last vestige of the rich winemaking tradition of the region.
You can tour the winery any day of the week. Tours begin each hour on the hour from 12 noon to 2 p.m. on weekdays, and from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on weekends.
Less than a mile and a half away is another island of “wine country” in the middle of the big city – a restaurant known as Philippe the Original, or, as locals refer to it, Philippe’s.
The restaurant turns 100 this year, and patrons wait in long lines for the signature French dip sandwiches (beef, lamb or pork) and other delicacies such as coleslaw, pickled beets, old-school chili and fruit pies.
But the big surprise at Philippe’s, with its sawdust-covered floor, is the by-the-glass wine list. It’s posted behind the counter, and typically includes 10 whites and 10 reds, all well selected and reasonably priced.
An example: a generous pour of Silver Oak Cabernet Sauvignon for just $15.
Start at San Antonio Winery, finish at Philippe the Original, and you’ve had an amazing wine country experience in the middle of downtown Los Angeles.