Passing the Torch at St. Julian

Apollo Braganini II succeeds his father as president of Michigan’s oldest winery
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Left to right: Dario Braganini, John Braganini, and Apollo Braganini II. Photo courtesy of St. Julian Winery

The fourth generation of leadership has taken the reins at Michigan’s oldest winery, family-owned St. Julian in Paw Paw.

Apollo Braganini II took over from his father, John Braganini, as president of the winery and distillery on Aug. 1. He had previously been working to revitalize the wholesale and distribution channels at the business, which he formally joined in 2018.

We caught up with Braganini in early September to learn more about his plans for the 101-year-old winery, his favorite house-made vino, and two new wine releases to expect from St. Julian soon.

Q: You’re a little more than a month into your new role as president of St. Julian. How has it been going so far, that whole transition?
A: The transition’s going great. We have a great team here. We have multiple people that have been with us for 20, 30 years, so there’s a huge wealth of knowledge and expertise. And my father is still here day to day in an adviser role.

Q: Your brother, Dario, has a leadership role at St. Julian as well. What’s it like running a company with your sibling — and family in general?
A: You hear a lot of horror stories on that. I love it. My brother’s my best friend — has been since we were little kids. We get along great. I have a great relationship with my father. He’s a great business adviser, great partner. I couldn’t be more thankful to be able to work with those guys every day.

Q: St. Julian celebrated its centennial last year. As you take the helm at the beginning of its second century, what direction do you want to take the company?
A: We’re trying to focus on two main things at once. One is obviously growth — we’ve been very fortunate with the growth pattern over the last six years — so continuing to grow the winery, grow production. And then the other side is continuing to improve our infrastructure. … We’ve actually been in this building since 1936. The transformation that we’ve had as far as some of our equipment [has been] getting all of our tank storage, upgrading to stainless-steel, controlled-temperature tanks. We’re looking to invest in a larger still for our spirits program, and eventually we’re going to have to get a higher-speed bottling line. So right now, growth and plant improvements are really [at the] forefront of my mind.

Q: How is your 2022 harvest going?
A: It’s going good. [It’s been an] early harvest this year. Typically, we wouldn’t really get in the swing of things for another week or two, but [there have been] lots of good growing days out in the vineyard this year. The grapes are coming in, and we’re excited. It makes it feel like fall around here.

Q: What’s your favorite wine that St. Julian makes?
A: I would say my overall favorite would be our Meritage, the 2017 vintage specifically. … Close second would be our Cabernet Sauvignon, our estate Cab. That ’17 vintage was amazing as well. But the 2020 stuff is just starting to come out of the barrels, and that’s all great, too. But for the most part, I’m a dry-red drinker. When it’s hot outside, rosés or white wines. But the Braganini Reserve Meritage is my favorite.

Q: Looking ahead a little bit, does St. Julian have any events or new wine releases scheduled for this fall?
A: As far as our wholesale wines go, we’ve got some new fun stuff coming out. We have a S’mores line that’s going to be released at the beginning of next year [to retailers, after a November launch in tasting rooms and for the wine club], to go with our PB&J [wine] and our Cotton Candy [rosé] — some of the fun stuff that we do. We’re doing a collaboration with Sweetwater’s Donut [Mill]: We … have a [cider called] Cider Donut coming out. … So we always have something fun [and innovative] coming out.

St. Julian, which also has tasting rooms in Frankenmuth, Union Pier, Dundee, Troy, and Rockford, has a variety of events planned this fall. Visit stjulian.com/events to learn more.

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