Meet the Winemakers: Nancie Oxley

St. Julian’s vice president of winemaking looks back on her 20-plus years at the winery
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Nancie Oxley, vice president of winemaking at St. Julian Winery, has been with the Southwest Michigan establishment for over 20 years. Photo courtesy of St. Julian Winery

St. Julian Winery in Paw Paw has been open for more than 100 years, making it the longest-operating winery in Michigan, and this whole time, it’s been owned and run by the Meconi-Braganini family.

But that family isn’t the only stakeholder with a long tenure at the storied institution.

Nancie Oxley, the vice president of winemaking, has been with St. Julian for a fifth of the winery’s existence. She worked her way up from a position as a lab manager and an assistant winemaker to become the head winemaker of a diverse and award-winning portfolio of vino.

Here, the decorated vintner talks about her career path, her favorite St. Julian wines, and more.

What led you to build your career at St. Julian?
I studied food science at Purdue University and met professor Richard Vine. He was working as the wine buyer for American Airlines and running the Indy International Wine Competition. I got my feet wet working as an entry coordinator for the competition, but I still didn’t know much about wine. My professors recommended I start an internship, so I began working at Geyser Peak Winery in Sonoma, California, for a semester. It was a good glimpse into the production side of wine. A lot of people love the tasting side of wine and love drinking it, but you must get down and dirty on the production side to know if you’ll love the job or not. I was working 16-hour days, 7 days a week, and still loving it!

After graduation, I sent my resume to a few different wineries and received offers from all of them, but St. Julian was always at the top of my list. I worked my way up from lab manager/assistant winemaker to head winemaker in 2010. In 2017, I was promoted to vice president of winemaking. 2022 was my 21st harvest.

What are some of the advantages and challenges of making wine in Michigan?
The challenges really center around the weather and how unpredictable it can be. We can have snow, rain, sleet, and sunshine all in the same day. In places like California, the climate is a lot more consistent. However, Michigan has been emerging in the wine industry for a while now. We are pushing and growing through these challenges and really making an impact.

What is your favorite St. Julian wine?
It’s like picking a favorite child! We work with over 52 grape varietals, and we have a little over 182 products at the moment. It’s fun to make the wines that end up on the shelves in the grocery store, but I really like making the smaller-batch wines. Our Braganini Reserve wines are handmade, small batch, artisanal, and more hands-on.

We’ve been playing around with skin-fermented whites, so recently we’ve had a Ramato, which is a skin-fermented Pinot Gris that would traditionally be done in Italy. We did that off of our estate vineyard.

What can visitors expect at a St. Julian tasting room?
Visitors can come in and see our entire portfolio. Our tasting rooms are pretty consistent across the board, so if you try one [wine] at one location, it will likely be at another. Each tasting room has their own unique attributes depending on their location. They have custom cocktails that will vary from place to place. It’s nice because you’re exposed to everything, but the experiences can be different.

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