A little boy who loved superheroes touched a lot of lives.
Now the Michigan wine community is rallying around the family who mourns his loss.
Robbie Oxley, the 6-year-old son of St. Julian winemaker Nancie Oxley and her husband, Keith, died as a result of a freak accident that happened on Sept. 19.
When some of Nancie’s wine industry colleagues and friends learned of the tragedy, they sprang into action. Emily Dockery, executive director of the Michigan Wine Collaborative (MWC); Gina Shay, MWC vice president; and Cortney Casey, co-owner of Michigan By The Bottle tasting rooms, got together (virtually) and decided to create a MI Women in Wine network to in part find a way to support the family.
Dockery began with a Facebook group to which she invited women working in Michigan’s wine industry. In short order the group decided to start a GoFundMe campaign to help raise money for the family.
“We called this campaign the ‘Oxley Superhero Fund’ because Robbie, who was an avid superhero fan, ended up becoming one by saving other children via organ donation,” Dockery says. “We wanted his superhero powers to live on with the proceeds from this fund.
“We also wanted Nancie, Keith and (Robbie’s sister) Emilie to be able to take as much time as they needed with their sudden and monumental loss.”
The fund had raised more than $37,000 as of Sept. 30. Dockery says it will be given to the family to help with expenses and possibly create a scholarship or other memorial in Robbie’s honor — their choice.
Supporting ‘a Force’
Nancie Oxley is a key figure in the Michigan wine industry, Dockery says. St. Julian is the largest and oldest winery in the state and has “done a lot for us on both sides of the industry — professional and consumer.”
Oxley has also been a great role model and cheerleader for women in the industry, Dockery adds.
“If you’re in the industry, it’s likely she has impacted your life in some way, especially if you’re a woman in the Michigan wine industry,” Dockery says. “She is a force, and she gives other women around her the power to be strong in their craft.”
Casey credits the outpouring of support directly to Oxley herself.
“So many people have come into contact with Nancie through her work at St. Julian, where she has set an outstanding example for women in the industry as a young female ascending to the top of a booming winery,” Casey says. “All the while, she has been friendly and caring to the people around her.”
St. Julian President John Braganini echoed Casey’s assessment.
“Nancie’s footprint in the industry is significant,” he says. “In addition to the many contributions she has made to raise wine quality and standards, she has also put herself out there on a personal level, and the combination makes her stand out.”
And as this tragedy happened at harvest time, Oxley’s co-workers have risen to the occasion.
“Our capable and experienced staff at St. Julian has committed to stepping up through this plentiful harvest to ensure her return will not be problematic,” Braganini adds, noting that he’s also not surprised at the outpouring of support from around Michigan’s wine industry.
Neither is Dave Miller, owner and winemaker at White Pine Winery and MWC president.
“My personal experience is that the Michigan wine industry is a tight-knit community,” he says. “We are relatively small in numbers compared to some industries, so we have all known one another for years, if not decades. We’re like an extended family.
“When one of our members is in need, the others step up.”
Dockery expects that MI Women in Wine, while rooted in a tragedy, will also go on and support other initiatives. As of late last week, members were up to around 50.
“We need all women who run the wine world to join us so we can learn about what is impacting their day to day and decide what needs to be focused on first and how we can improve the industry for all women,” Dockery says. “I hope this group will work as a way to get women more visibility in their careers and projects and help expand the industry to more women who may not have considered a career in wine.”
Women interested in joining the MI Women in Wine group — from winemakers and tasting room servers to distributors, students and wine shop owners and employees — are encouraged to check out and ask to join the Facebook group.