St Julian Wines is now celebrating their 100th Anniversary in 2021! Nancie Oxley, the Vice President in Charge of Wine Making (which is the coolest title ever!) shares with us the rich history of St Julian Winery, what it takes to put together a great tasting bottle of vino, and some recommendations to try this year.
Cliff Duvernois: [00:00:00] Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the show. I’m your host cliff Dubin wall. And today we have a Michigan staple on the podcast and she probably has one of the coolest jobs in the world. I just, I just love saying her job title, please. Welcome to the show. Nancie Oxley, the Vice President – Winemaking at St. Julian Wines. Nancie, how are you?
Nancie Oxley, St Julian Wines: [00:00:51] Thank you for having me today.
Cliff Duvernois: [00:00:53] Great. Thanks for being on the podcast today. Why don’t you tell us a little bit about where you’re from and where you grew up. Sure.
Nancie Oxley, St Julian Wines: [00:00:59] So I was born in Bloomington, Illinois. We lived there for a short period of time, before briefly moving to the North Canton, Ohio area. I think my parents kept us there for about nine months before we landed in Lafayette, Indiana. So that’s where I grew up the majority of my life. I am a Boilermaker through and through, so I bleed black and gold.
And I do have a degree from that university in Southern Indiana as well. I have my MBA from IU. But my undergrad and my master’s are both from Purdue University and I happened to be in my senior year of college and my mom was asking me if I was ever going to get a job in wine-making. And in college, I worked with the Indy International Wine Competition. And at that time, my professor, Dr. Richard Vine was running the competition and I said, yeah, mom, I’m not really worried. I’d gone out to California. Did an internship where with I worked with Darrel Groom at Geyser Peak Winery
Cliff Duvernois: [00:02:00] Nice.
Nancie Oxley, St Julian Wines: [00:02:00] It has since been bought and sold more times than I can count with the great consolidation of California wineries, the Virginia Dare Winery is actually at the location where I interned. But I came home and my mom said, Hey, you need to get a job when you graduate. And so I happen to send resume up here to St. Julian, and it was the perfect match.
It was that puzzle piece that they were kinda missing. And what my strengths of my background was right out of college for fit perfectly into their programs. So I started here in August of 2002 as the Assistant Winemaker and I have since worked my way up becoming Head Winemaker and now Vice President of winemaking. So I just finished harvest number 19 with St. Julian. So harvest 2021 will mark my 20<sup>th</sup> harvest at this great company.
Cliff Duvernois: [00:02:51] So that’s awesome. And I want to go back because you said you actually, you said a lot of things that intrigued me. Whose mother says to them, what are you going to get a job working with wine? Where did that come from?
Nancie Oxley, St Julian Wines: [00:03:04] She knew I had been bit by the wine bug and I had done my internship and I had set my heart on working in the wine industry. So my undergrad degrees in Food Manufacturing Operations, which is food science, food engineering, and management. And working with the wine competition, I had this great opportunity to taste wines from all over the world, as well as work with some amazing people in the industry, whether it was sales people, people that own distributorships and winemakers, So, I guess, my portfolio of people that were on my team to get the job in the industry was actually really fun. And I didn’t know which angle I wanted to take. I didn’t know if I wanted to make wine or sell it, but when it came down to it, I love math and science and I love the art behind wine making. So that’s the route I chose.
So being any good mother, she was pushing me into the realm to get a job, knowing that at some point I would have to move out and grow up, I think.
Cliff Duvernois: [00:04:01] So, what was it initially about, about wine that attracted you to it?
Nancie Oxley, St Julian Wines: [00:04:08] You know, we really weren’t big wine drinkers or my family wasn’t growing up. They would always have the Asti Spumante or White Zinfandel on holidays, but I think it’s something that oftentimes the general public takes for granted that there are actually people that are behind the scenes making wine.
And even being in Food Science, I didn’t really know that was a career path. It truly came down to so much science behind winemaking, whether it be in the vineyards and the biology and phenology of the grapes gorwing and how they grow here in Michigan compared to California or another great, you know, wine growing region. But then the science behind the actual wine making process.
We were always into art growing up and so being able to throw an artistic flair at it, was a huge thing. I knew that I wanted to do some sort of food product development. I just thought I would be working for Frito lay or Kellogg or, you know, something else creating new food products. I never imagine wine when I was 18 years old going into college. So.
And the people, the people are absolutely amazing in this industry. So once I got a little bite out of getting to know the people, the industry is one that I can’t really compare to anything else, because I don’t know how many other industries really help their fellow colleagues, that we’re all on the same team, but yet of course, we’d rather you drink the wine that we make versus our neighbors, but it’s a truly unique industry.
Cliff Duvernois: [00:05:36] Yes, that it is. And I know that before you said that you were, you know, you were sending your resume out and you applied to St. Julian’s and things just worked out. With your pedigree, and especially with your experience, working with California wineries. What was it that, that made you think that working for St. Julian was the direction you wanted to go?
Nancie Oxley, St Julian Wines: [00:05:59] I wanted to be in a Midwest, being a Midwest girl growing up here. I love California. I love California’s wine scene. It’s just a different lifestyle, I guess, out West. I think it would have been so much fun to be out there as a young person in my twenties working in the wine scene, but I was afraid I would never be able to make it home. But that wasn’t out of the realm. I thought, you know, I really would have to go back there. I just happen to get matched with Saint Julian by advisement of my professor, Dr. Richard Vine, he knew that St. Julian was a larger winery.
In Indiana, we have a lot of small mom and pop shops and not, you know, they weren’t necessarily hiring people outside of the family. And he said, you need to go a little bit bigger or you might have a better opportunity of getting your foot in the door and getting a job and being able to grow with the company. And that’s exactly what I did.
Cliff Duvernois: [00:06:50] Nice. And with regards to St. Julian wines. Why don’t you share with us like an overview of the other history of the company?
Nancie Oxley, St Julian Wines: [00:07:01] So this year marks our hundredth anniversary.
Right. And that’s hard, you know, for some Michigan businesses, but for a Michigan winery, it’s quite outstanding. So. We were founded in 1921 by Mariano Meconi. He immigrated over from Falaria, Italy to Windsor, Ontario. Of course that was, you know, Prohibition times and he was making wine in Canada. And as soon as Prohibition was over, he moved the winery across the river to Detroit and we were there for two years.
And all of the grapes back then were of course grown in Southwest Michigan because Welch’s is just four miles South of our current location and horse and bugging grapes from one side of the state to the other proved not to be the best business model. So they moved the winery to the heart of grape country, essentially. And the building that we are in now was available. There was a lot of rich agricultural history to our building prior to St. Julian moving in.
The railway actually went right in between our buildings and they used our one of our current barrel sellers is an old ice house. And so the local farmers would chip blocks of ice off of the local lakes to bring here so they could load rail cars to ship out fresh fruits and vegetables to Chicago and Detroit.
And, you know, we had a few wars in between that happens. So we were the Italian Wine Company. Ultimately we landed on Saint Julian to pay homage to the patron saint of Falaria – San Giuliano – and so St. Julian stuck and we’ve been that ever since. We have been in our current location since 1936 and while some of our bones look original, there’s a lot of things that are happening interior wise to the guts of the winery. That we are getting some tremendous facelifts going on.
So over the years as you know, we’ve made sweet fortified wines. One of our most well-known wines is probably our Solera Cream Sherry. We’ve evolved though. So we’re still making some of those sweeter style wines. You know, they, people still enjoy drinking sweet red wines here in the Midwest.
But we also planted hybrids in the 70s and then of course, follow suit planting some vinifera. So our portfolio currently has well, over 150 different wines, sparkling juices, ciders, and spirits.
Cliff Duvernois: [00:09:24] Wow. 150 that’s. Wow. That’s that’s quite a bit. My first exposure with St. Julian was you know, driving through Frankenmuth. And I actually saw a storefront. Saint Julian’s winery. Is, is this something where, you know, cause a lot of, a lot of vineyards out there we’ll actually just, you know, send their wine to a wine store where you’re just one of many, but seeing this particular. You know, wine store there and I’ve seen a couple of others scattered around Michigan. You know, what was the, what was the idea behind behind having your own store?
Nancie Oxley, St Julian Wines: [00:10:03] To allow people to taste, so it’s all about the experience. Anybody can go to their local grocery store, local liquor store or wine shop, you name it. So having people come here to the source, showing them where we actually make the wine and allowing them to taste is a big part of what we do. So being one of the largest wineries, or being the largest in the state in terms of how much fruit that we handle here.
This past vintage, we crushed over 4,000 tons of pure Michigan grapes. We also work with about 500 tons of cherries and a hundred tons of blueberries. So we want to show people that we are committed to Michigan agriculture, and we’re working with the fruit that’s grown right here in our backyard, primarily in the Lake Michigan Shore appellation.
But it is also coming from other locations around Michigan. And that is still based on Mariano’s vision of working with Michigan fruit. So third generation now fourth who own the company. We are continuing that facet. So, planting new vineyards every single day to be able to accommodate the process load of having over those 150 different products that we have here.
Cliff Duvernois: [00:11:11] Man, I can’t even envision what, what four tons of grapes looks like.
Nancie Oxley, St Julian Wines: [00:11:16] 4,000 tons.
Cliff Duvernois: [00:11:18] sorry, 4,000 times. Ooh, that’s it. I’m sorry.
Now I told you I can’t envision it. So, yeah, that’s really cool. So now, as, as far as, you know, with your background in, you know, Forgive me for for kind of slaughtering it here for, you know, making foods. I eat making wines. When you sit down to create. You know, a wine, especially when it’s something new, what is kind of like your thinking behind that?
Nancie Oxley, St Julian Wines: [00:11:48] Gosh, it comes from many different directions. Sometimes it comes from new varietals that we’re working with. So currently we have 52 different grape varietals that we work with. So some of it’s that trying to capture what Sauvignon blanc should taste like or what Albariño should taste like and how does it taste here in Southwest, Michigan versus California or versus New Zealand? And so some of it stems from that and try and taste wines from around the world, but yet make sure we’re capturing what our own terroir can create for us. But some of the blending comes from ideas that customers have, or other employees may have.
You know, just being out and about that…and essentially come from anywhere that, you know, I’ll wake up in the middle of the night and have this idea and then throw it down on a notebook next to my bed and say, Hey, we should try doing this. Maybe it’ll work. Maybe it won’t, but we never turned down the opportunity to try things.
I would say most of the time they’re relatively successful. Not everything necessarily comes fruition that the customer sees, but it’s that constant creativity constantly tasting, smelling. You know, evolving ideas into actual wines that we produce.
Cliff Duvernois: [00:12:57] Nice and. You know, with regards to, because I, I think you said before, you’ve got over 50, 50 varietals. When, when you’re going out there and you’re picking like a new varietals, cause you said you’re planning well vines all the time. Is there something in particular that, that you’re looking for? In a grape.
Nancie Oxley, St Julian Wines: [00:13:15] Yes. It definitely has to be cold Hardy because of our great Michigan cold weather that we, you know, potentially can have a polar vortex coming through here.
Cliff Duvernois: [00:13:24] Oh, yeah.
Nancie Oxley, St Julian Wines: [00:13:25] And new and different. We’re such a young industry. So I mean, old world Europe, they’ve been growing vines for hundreds of years and, you know, they have specific varietals in certain regions that really worked for them. And even California, I mean, in terms of old world versus new world, they’re relatively young.
But then you have Michigan and the things that we’re growing here Concord’s and Delaware’s and Niagara’s and all those native species. Yeah, they do well here. We make wine from them still. They definitely have a crowd that really enjoys them, but trying to push the limits.
I mean, we didn’t know if Albariño could grow in Southwest Michigan. So one of our growers said, Hey, can we plant Albariño? I want to see if it works. And we said, sure, let’s do it. Let’s try it. And so I think some of it’s pushing the envelope, some of its experimental. Some things we’ll definitely continue as single varietal and some things will be parts of blends, but I think blends are just a superior, a single varietals in terms of wines too.
But if we don’t try, we don’t know. I mean, I could tell you stories that I’ve been told that back in the 80s, they were growing Pinot noir down in Southwest Michigan, and it was determined that we just couldn’t grow it. But when you are growing Pinot noir like a Concord grape vine, it’s not going to be good in any region of the world. And so it was dialing in the actual grape growing to match the specific site, as well as the grower, rootstock and there’s many things going into growing grapes. And getting that right.
And then getting it in the right hands of the winemakers and proving we can do things. So. You know, it’s just about exploring. I know there are other wineries in the state of Michigan that are doing the same thing, but if we don’t try to plant new varietals, we’ll never really know if they do well here or not.
Cliff Duvernois: [00:15:07] Yeah, and I think that’s something to really keep in mind when it comes to Michigan wines, like you said before, it’s still a relatively, you know, I know you said St. Julian has been doing this for you know, founded the company a hundred years ago. Both with regards to the rest of the world, Michigan is still the new kid on the block, so to speak.
And, you know, it really is experimenting. We’re trying to figure out what varietals are going to grow here. And which of those are actually going to taste good, especially when, when you blend them together. So, you know, I can imagine that while your job is fun, you’ll get in to play mad scientist a little bit to kind of experiment here.
It’s also, I think a lot of patients being able to take these varieties mixed them together and see what happens is this going to taste good? And more importantly, is there going to be a market for it?
Nancie Oxley, St Julian Wines: [00:15:52] Absolutely. And then you had to throw in vintage variation that we don’t have consistent vintage after vintage like they do necessarily in California. That we can wildly have a different vintage every single year. So 19 harvests under my belt, I can’t compare two as equal. So if you imagine that you get a clean slate every year, but you don’t know what darts are going to be thrown at you, that also puts a new twist on making wine as well.
Cliff Duvernois: [00:16:18] Yes. Absolutely. Absolutely. So what I wanna do is is, Man, I love this part of the interview. Whenever I talk to anybody about why I love this part of the interview. So. You know, somebody is listening to this and they’re like, you know what? I want to give some, some wines from St. Juliana try. I’m going to go to the store. I want to get some, yeah, let’s just say that they’re, you know, they’re beginning their new to wines and they just want to get some exposure to it. So what would, you know, what would be some really good wines for them to try.
Nancie Oxley, St Julian Wines: [00:16:49] Gosh, it’s so much fun with our portfolio of products that we have. So if you’re a new wine drinker and you’re not sure if you actually like wine or you don’t drink wine, very often, people tend to drink sweeter style wines.
Cliff Duvernois: [00:17:05] Yes.
Nancie Oxley, St Julian Wines: [00:17:05] And that’s a big portion of St Julian’s portfolio. So if you go to your local retail stores, you will see several St Julian wines or any of our tasting room locations. The Herons, Red and Blue Heron, and you’ll see on the shelves, Sweet Revenge and Envy. You’ll see a line called Native Root that pays homage to the fact of the native varietals that we have here in our state.
We have some sparkling wine options and we have fruit wine options. But I would say if you were on the sweeter side, try the Herons, Sweet Revenge and the Native Roots. If you are a well-versed wine drinker and, someone like yourself…at Saint Julian, we have, you know, our everyday wines are proprietary blends all under our St Julian label. And then we have our Braganini Reserve wines.
So the Braganini family, third and fourth generation, both here running winery paying homage to the family. Those are our upper tier wines. And then we have this newer series that we call our Winemaker Series are really small, batch artisanal wines that we do here too. The Winemaker Series, as well as the Braganini Reserves, you had to visit one of our six tasting rooms to purchase those versus something that’s a little more wildly found at our local retailer.
So we have an estate vineyard, a very smallest estate vineyard in Coloma where we grow Riesling, Pinot noir, Sauvignon blanc, Pinot gris, Cabernet sauvignon, and we just planted a few rows of Sangiovese this last spring.
Cliff Duvernois: [00:18:42] Oh, wow.
Nancie Oxley, St Julian Wines: [00:18:42] But we have a really nice Estate bottled Pinot noir that I would highly recommend as well as our Mountain Road Riesling. The Mountain Road Riesling has won the White Wine of the Year at the Indy International Wine Competition, as well as a Jefferson Cup. It’s one that consistently wins awards year after year.
Unfortunately, we don’t have any new because nobody was doing wine competitions last year. So I will get back into the, the new realm of this season. But these Winemaker Series wines, we have an Albariño/Pinot gris blend that is quite delicious. For reds, we do a lot of single barrel blends. So myself and Assistant Winemaker, Kyle Totzke, we go through and taste every single barrel in house before we blend out some of our bigger Braganini Reserve blends.
So for instance, I have a single barrel Cabernet Franc in front of me. So we literally will bottle one barrel of a wine and release it specifically to our wine club members. So, if you are a experienced wine drinker, I highly recommend getting your hands on some of these Winemaker Series or Braganini Reserves.
And then if you don’t like wine, we have cider. Our Forbidden Fruit Cider line as well as St. Julian’s a distillery as well. So we’re now producing we’re expanding our line of spirits too. So, a little bit of something for everybody here.
Cliff Duvernois: [00:19:59] No doubt. Wow. So this is great. So Braganini, Winemaker Series and yeah, I’m, I’m, I’m dying to try them all. And I do want to circle back because. I will admit that I have a weakness when it comes to the bubbly, so of your sparkling wine collections, what would be some good ones to try?
Nancie Oxley, St Julian Wines: [00:20:16] We have a new rosé out called Ciao Bolle which you pays homage to our Italian roots. So it means hello bubbles. So it’s a sparkling Rose.
Cliff Duvernois: [00:20:28] Nice. Nice. Okay. Great. I’m going to have to give that one a try as well. All right. Excellent. So. Hundred year anniversary. Congratulations. What do you guys got planned?
Nancie Oxley, St Julian Wines: [00:20:44] Oh, all kinds of stuff. If our great state we’ll open up with these COVID restrictions.
So we have lots of things planned for this year, of course, with everything being on hold until we open, but as always, we offer tastings of course, that all of our tasting rooms. Moving into, hopefully the spring months we’ll be doing some wine dinners. So we do a five course pairing wine dinner.
Cliff Duvernois: [00:21:09] Oh,
Nancie Oxley, St Julian Wines: [00:21:10] We usually do one in spring and one in fall. Oftentimes we’ll do small plates out on our patio. So a little bites with wine pairings. If you are a part of our wine club, we do Wine Club 101s. So they are educational series throughout the year, teaching you a little bit about stylistic differences between our wines, how they compare to other regions around the world, blending opportunities.
We did one on ciders that we’ll have some of those planed. We do an event called Vino in the Vines at our estate vineyard that you get to have little bites that match with the wines of all of the wines made from our estate vineyard. So we’ll walk in the Riesling block and you’ll be able to taste the Riesling grapes and the Riesling from the 2020 vintage that we made.
And then you walk over to the Sauvignon blanc and you’ll be able to try the Sauvignon Blanc grapes and try last year vintage of Sauvignon blanc and have a little bite with that. And we walked through the entire vineyard. So we’ll be doing those several weekends. Throughout the summer and into the fall.
We are in a huge period of growth here at Saint Julian. So we just opened a portion of our building next door for a barrel cellar, and we’re actually redoing an interior area as a new tasting room for reserve tastings of VIP experience. And then it actually goes downstairs into our big barrel room area.
And so we’ll be doing some special barrel tastings throughout the year down there. So if you guys like to taste wine right out of the barrel, which is always fun, I always say its better out of the barrel. We’ll be doing those throughout the year as well. And then of course, the Paw Paw wine and harvest festival. Which we didn’t have this last year, but the entire village of Paw Paw transforms and here at Saint Julian, we have bands and wine tasting and spirit tastings throughout the day and into the evening.
This year, I think we’ll be doing some educational seminars. And that, that is Friday through Sunday. That weekend commences with the St. Julian parade through town, but we also are going to…rumor is that we’re going to be trying to do a Guinness book of world record toast of getting as many people as we possibly can to toast to our 100<sup>th</sup> Anniversary.
Cliff Duvernois: [00:23:32] Nice too bad that’s something you could do virtually.
Nancie Oxley, St Julian Wines: [00:23:36] And it might be something that we will do. I mean, it all depends on what’s going on with what are the restrictions are. So we’ve definitely been thinking outside of the box, offering tastings to our customers and trying to get wines in the hands of our customers when they can’t come here and taste with us. And so depending on what the future looks like towards the end of the year, we’ll be definitely having some sort of celebration. If it’s not here, it will be a virtual one.
Cliff Duvernois: [00:24:02] Definitely. And I. Tell us, cause like I got to know, I know of your tasting room, that’s over in Frankenmuth, but how many tasting rooms do you have?
Nancie Oxley, St Julian Wines: [00:24:12] Yes, we have six. So of course, right here in Paw Paw, we have our tasting room right here at the winery. We are technically a winery over in Frankenmuth, which is home of our Solera Cream Sherry. So we still are over there. We have a tasting room in Union Pier, we have one in Dundee right across from Cabela’s. We have a tasting room in Troy, so in the Metro Detroit area. As well as Rockford and not at Rockford store, we have Flo’s pizzeria next door.
Cliff Duvernois: [00:24:41] Nice.
Nancie Oxley, St Julian Wines: [00:24:42] Wood Fired pizzas, you can have lunch right on site and have that combo. So.
Cliff Duvernois: [00:24:48] That is absolutely that’s absolutely excellent. And Nancie for you know, if anybody is here and I’m going to. Well, I’m going to, I’m going to write down all these, these names in our, in our show notes, for sure, for people to try. But for anybody who might want to follow what it is that you’re doing or become a member of your wine club, what is, what is the best way for them to start connecting with you online?
Nancie Oxley, St Julian Wines: [00:25:11] Yeah, it definitely is <a href=”http://www.stjulian.com”>www.stjulian.com</a> all of our information is listed online. We have a brand new wine club as well. So we have a very extensive wine club that we’ve had in place for several years, that myself and our president select wines for you.
So there’s two, four and six bottle. And if you are dry, wine drinker we have a club for you. And if you’re sweet, we have one for you. Or if you and your partner like different ones, we have a club for that as well. And then we have a new Shore to Door wine club. That is, it’s not a wine club is the Shore to Door Club I should say, that gets wine in your hands on a regular basis that you choose of your liking.
Cliff Duvernois: [00:25:51] Wow. And that’s really cool. So for our audience, we will make sure that we have all those links in the show notes down below Nancie. Thank you. So.
Nancie Oxley, St Julian Wines: [00:26:02] And I should also say, please check us out on Facebook. We’re also on Instagram and YouTube. So anywhere you can Google St. Julian, you’ll probably, we will, we will most definitely pop up, but most regularly Facebook, Instagram, and of course our website. So.
Cliff Duvernois: [00:26:16] Nice. All the socials that are out there. Excellent. Great. And yeah, so we’ll have all those links in the show notes down below Nancy. Thank you so much for being on the podcast today. Really appreciate it.
Nancie Oxley, St Julian Wines: [00:26:26] Thank you. Wonderful to talk to you today.