Commitment to Michigan Fruit Remains at the Heart of Century-Old St. Julian Winery & Distillery
In 1921, Mariano Meconi began making wine, creating a family business that celebrated 100 years in 2021. Through the years, Meconi and his children, their children and now the fourth generation have found their roles within the award-winning St. Julian Winery & Distillery. The Paw Paw-based winery hasn’t just survived the challenges of the past century but also thrived and has been at the forefront of creative winemaking for decades.
“We’ve always been quite innovative, staying ahead of trends by pushing the limits of different wine styles and different grape varietals,” says Nancie Oxley, St. Julian’s vice president of winemaking. “We were one of the first wineries to have multiple tasting rooms, but in order to do that, we had to open our second production facility. We are Michigan’s oldest craft distillery as well. As we progressed as a company, we continue to push the envelope of what is being done with Michigan fruit.”
St. Julian Winery supplies its tasting rooms and other points of sale with dozens of different wines and spirits derived from fruit grown within the state.
“We choose Michigan fruit because we think the fruit is better,” says John Braganini, president of the winery. “We are in a position where we enter into long-term contracts with local farmers, giving us more control over the fruit supply. Michigan wineries need to be using Michigan grapes. I think the fruit we grow is as good as anything you can find anywhere in the country.”
With such a wide variety of grapes available, St. Julian’s innovative and youthful winemaking team has created unique and fun products, from many kinds of red, white and sparkling wines and ciders to its latest release, the PB&J wine. They have the right platform to try new things and find the next big thing.
“With six tasting rooms, we have over 300,000 visitors a year, so we’re able to try any product out, making 100 cases of something and getting it into the hands of customers to try it,” Braganini says. “We have the tools to try anything.”
A great example is the journey of producing cider. While the business has produced cider in the past and seen shifts in demand, its award-winning Forbidden Fruit cider is a new brand with six flavors created with the knowledge that interest was increasing and customers love variety in the modern market.
Braganini is proud to be the third generation of his family to run the winery, and he’s working with his wife and children to share knowledge that will help them lead the company after he retires.
“We all get along well, which is an important feature that’s no different from a nonfamily business,” Braganini says. “My family members are very respectful to my authority, and I’m very respectful to their talents and abilities.”
The St. Julian family includes team members who aren’t related by blood but are deeply connected to the winery’s success and longevity. Oxley, who started with the winery 20 years ago, credits the leadership’s vision for local, innovative products as part of why she’s stayed with the company. The company’s vice president of operations, Matt White, has been with St. Julian for more than 30 years, and many other managers and staff members have tenure beyond 10 and 20 years.
“We’re so committed to Michigan fruit,” Oxley says. “We’re working with over 25 growers, and we work with cherries, raspberries, peaches and pears. If you can grow it in Michigan, we’ve made it into a wine or spirit.”