How St. Julian Became Michigan's No. 1 Winery

    What began as modest roots in Canada more than 85 years ago has been carefully cultivated into one of the most successful wineries in the Great Lakes Region, according to Drinks Media Wire.

     Mariano Meconi was born in village of Faleria, Italy, in 1895 and at the age of 13, he emigrated from Italy to Windsor, Ontario, Canada. As a young man, Mariano worked after school at the Studebaker auto factory to supplement his preferred vocation – winemaking.

     In 1921, at age 26, Mariano founded Border City Wine Cellars, quickly changing the name to the Meconi Wine Company. It is said he often had dealings with the infamous “Purple Gang” before the repeal of Prohibition in December of 1933 allowed him to move his flourishing winemaking enterprise across the river to Detroit.

     Meconi moved the family and the business west in 1936, to Paw Paw, Michigan, where the proximity to Lake Michigan provided ideal grape-growing conditions. In time, this region would become one of four federally-recognized American Viticultural Areas  in Michigan, known as the Lake Michigan Shore Appellation – now home to nearly a dozen wineries and hundreds of acres of vineyards.

     With that westward move came a new name: The Italian Wine Company. But it was short-lived. In 1941, during World War II, Meconi strategically countered rising antifascist sentiment in the United States by switching the name of the company once again to St. Julian Winery, named after the patron saint of his native village in Italy.

     Shortly after the war, Apollo Braganini, a veteran of the Army Air Force, entered the St. Julian picture. He fell in love with Mariano’s daughter, Julia, and the two were married in 1947. For 18 years, Apollo worked at St. Julian, first as a salesman and then as the company’s Vice President, before moving out of state with his family to pursue other interests.

     Julia passed away in 1971, and just two years later, following the death of her brothers Gene and Robert, Apollo moved his children back to Paw Paw to help with the family business.

     That year, he made a bold move in the industry – trying to keep the business alive when other wineries around the state were failing. Apollo initiated a massive planting of French/American hybrid grapes, leading to the diversity that has become a St. Julian trademark.

     It was that same year – 1973 – that David Braginini was introduced as a salesman for the winery, dealing with distributors and securing his future at St. Julian. By 1978, Apollo turned over the day-to-day operations to Braginini, who would take just five years to acquire controlling interest in the company.

     Over the past 34 years, Braginini’s strong family tradition of winemaking has turned St. Julian into Michigan’s oldest, longest-operating and most award-winning winery. During his tenure, St. Julian has established tasting rooms around the state – in  Frankenmuth, Union Pier, Parma and Dundee – including a new tasting room which opened in November.

     Also last year, his daughter, Angela, took on a role at St. Julian, handling a variety of marketing and public relations services as the fourth generation in this long-standing family business.

     Tomorrow: A look at Michigan’s 2007 harvest.

Posted in Wineries of Distinction
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