Learning From Michigan’s First Female Winemaker With Nancie Oxley of St. Julian Winery

by Drew Hendricks
Last updated Mar 30, 2023

Legends Behind the Craft Podcast

Learning From Michigan’s First Female Winemaker With Nancie Oxley of St. Julian Winery

Last Updated on March 30, 2023 by

Nancie Oxley
Learning From Michigan's First Female Winemaker With Nancie Oxley of St. Julian Winery 11

Nancie Oxley is the Vice President of Winemaking at St. Julian Winery. She proudly holds the title of Michigan’s first female winemaker and has piloted the Michigan wine industry. 

Nancie has been involved in the wine industry for the past 20 years and gained knowledge primarily through hands-on experience. She leads St. Julian’s winemaking team, which has created hundreds of award-winning wines and upheld St. Julian’s reputation as Michigan’s most-awarded winery.

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Here’s a glimpse of what you’ll learn: 

  • Nancie Oxley talks about how she got into the industry and her role as Michigan’s first female winemaker 
  • How St. Julian Winery has grown over the last two decades
  • Tips to build a wine club
  • St. Julian’s distribution process
  • The adventurous flavors of St. Julian Winery
  • Nancie discusses the winery’s tasting rooms and its unique offerings
  • How St. Julian makes its own vodka
  • Nancie shares how she stays motivated across an expansive career

In this episode with Nancie Oxley

How do you foster continued business growth for over a century? Cultivating time-honored traditions while embracing modern practices has proven successful.

Working in the wine industry for 20 years, Nancie Oxley is well-lauded for her profound expertise in the business and is proud to be Michigan’s first female winemaker. She got her start as a laboratory intern and is now on her 21st harvest. How is Nancie pushing the industry forward?

In today’s episode of the Legends Behind the Craft podcast, Drew Thomas Hendricks and Bianca Harmon sit down with Nancie Oxley, Vice President of Winemaking at St. Julian Winery, as she shares how she got her start in the industry. Nancie also talks about what it’s like being part of Michigan’s oldest winery and distillery, how St. Julian has grown over the years, and the unique flavors it’s bringing to market.

Resources Mentioned in this episode

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Episode Transcript

Intro 0:03

Welcome to the Legends Behind the Craft podcast where we feature top leaders in the wine and craft beverage industry with your host Drew Hendricks. Now let’s get started with the show

Drew Thomas Hendricks 0:19

Drew Thomas Hendricks here on the host of the Legends Behind the Craft podcast. On the show, I talk with leaders in the wine and craft beverage industry. Today we have a very special guest on the show. She’s the very first woman winemaker in Michigan. But before I introduce her, I got to introduce the sponsor. Today’s sponsor is Barrels Ahead. At Barrels Ahead we work with you to implement a one of a kind marketing strategy. And that highlights your authenticity, tells your story and connects you with your ideal customers. In short, we help wineries and craft beverage producers unlock their story to unleash their revenue. Go to barrelsahead.com today to learn more. Bianca Harmon is Barrel Ahead’s DTC strategist is joining us again today. How’s it going, Bianca?

Bianca Harmon 1:02

It’s going great Drew, looking forward to talking to Nancie today.

Drew Thomas Hendricks 1:06

Yes, I am super excited to talk with Nancie Oxley. Nancie is the vice president of winemaking at St. Julian Winery in Michigan. She didn’t as I said she’s also Michigan’s first female winemaker. How’s it going, Nancie?

Nancie Oxley 1:19

And where are you guys today?

Drew Thomas Hendricks 1:21

I’m doing really good. Welcome to the show.

Nancie Oxley 1:24

Thank you for having me.

Drew Thomas Hendricks 1:25

So Nancie, in the pre show, you talked about how this is the earliest season for harvest. We’re recording this right now at the end of August.

Nancie Oxley 1:33

And yeah, so we actually started harvest last week, because the earliest in the last 21 years. And I’ve been here at St. Julian that we’ve started. So it’s a little bit crazy. We were behind earlier in the season, we had pretty late budbreak. For us, it was still in May, that first week of May, but oftentimes we’ll have budbreak in the last week or last two weeks of April. So we caught up in a hurry. The weather’s been fantastic here all summer has been nice and warm. And we had a new bridal for us that was ready to go so ocln Muscats. See LMS get

Drew Thomas Hendricks 2:12

that now. I really want to learn about your founder story. But I am kind of curious, tell me a little more about the so cielo Muscat and, yeah, so

Nancie Oxley 2:19

there are all kinds of new varietals that are being created at different universities that are better suited for a cool climate region or cold climate. So whether it’s Cornell, the University of Minnesota, Illinois, they are creating some different things all around and ocln. Muscat is a newer Mustang bridle that has all the great things that Muscat does for us for winemaking in terms of aromatics and acid retention. But it does a little bit better here in our climate, so I’ve never worked with it before. So far. The flavors are absolutely amazing on it, and we’re excited to get it going. And alarm in the back. That’s our press. Sorry.

Drew Thomas Hendricks 3:01

Oh, geez. Yeah. Hammering above me, there’s going major construction, so we’re just gonna roll with it. When is it Are you do you have to use native rootstocks or can you use grafted rootstocks up there in Michigan

Nancie Oxley 3:15

but so some of our varietals are on their own roofstock here, but most are actually on commercial grade rootstocks that are hand selected for the different sites that we have varietals planted on.

Drew Thomas Hendricks 3:27

Okay, yeah. So you’re there it is actually warm enough to do the grass

Nancie Oxley 3:32

so that we most of our vineyard sites, especially the in the last 20 years, we have 3309 or one on 114 or the two rootstock selections that most of our growers are using. Sometimes you’ll see. So four or Riparia based on rootstock but the one on 114 and 3309 seem to be the best suited for what we have going on down here in southwest Michigan.

Bianca Harmon 3:56

Are you getting grapes from other areas?

Nancie Oxley 3:59

In terms of what we’re harvesting,

Bianca Harmon 4:02

like are you purchasing your grapes from other areas?

Nancie Oxley 4:04

So we are wholeheartedly committed to Michigan here so we this year on the docket, we have about 4200 tons of grapes that we’ll be processing and 99% of them are coming from Southwest Michigan. So all within the Lake Michigan shore ABA. So if you if you look at Michigan, I don’t know my hands kind of funky here. Yeah, I’m actually going to do back backwards this way. We’re down here in the Southwest Michigan that’s where the like Michigan shore ABA is. Occasionally we do work with growers up in the Leelanau and old mission Peninsula. But Michigan is our thing. So our belief is to be a true winery. You had to grow grapes in your backyard. We already know Napa makes fantastic wines Sonoma, New York, you know any anywhere Oregon we have all these great wine regions of the world, but they build to their originality and their, you know, their prestige of their wine regions based on what they’re actually growing that what they’re bringing and from other areas. So that’s what we’re trying to do at St. Julian, we’re really committed to that. It’s been a huge effort. It’s been a huge undertaking. Currently we have over 1000 acres that are contracted with local growers all down in southwest Michigan. We ever own a state vineyard here that our owner kids, they have 25 acres planted. So we get to play around with some of that fruit that we get to kind of manipulate further and push to new directions that we don’t expect our growers to normally do that. But yeah, we’re committed to Michigan. So Michigan, graves, Michigan, cherries, we process blueberries, peaches, we have a spirits program, and we’re working with Michigan corn, and yeah, you’re

Drew Thomas Hendricks 5:40

one of the most diverse product portfolios of a winery that I’ve ever seen.

Bianca Harmon 5:44

My mind is blown, I mean, so like what are you using in this mu low mint chocolate?

Nancie Oxley 5:52

That is the one product that is not necessarily coming from our particular region. So we have a few of these obscure things. We have Boulos,

Bianca Harmon 6:05

strawberry No, I

Nancie Oxley 6:08

know where this coming from local cows. So know what we’re doing like lemon cello here too. And of course, we’re not growing any lemons here in Michigan, but we are Italian roots in Michigan soil. So we have some of these obscure pop up things that we’re doing but the core of our portfolio, everything is here from Michigan.

Bianca Harmon 6:32

Yeah. Okay, that I was like, wow, where are they kidding, these meant chocolate wine or mu wine. Okay, all right.

Drew Thomas Hendricks 6:48

We’re gonna get into that. But Nancie, I got to know. So how did you get into the industry and being the first the first one winemaker in Michigan.

Nancie Oxley 6:55

And I think the first was by luck. But my undergrad is from Purdue University, food manufacturing operations. So that’s food science, food manufacturing and management kind of all compressed into one degree program that they had going on. The Indian International Wine Competition was also hosted by a Purdue University at that time. And that was my summer job. And so I got bit by the wine bug. We didn’t really grow up drinking much wine. My parents didn’t by any means. And so my professor was also the wine buyer for American Airlines at that time, and he said, Go do an internship. And I went out to California, we went to five different wineries. And a few of them were in Napa, if you were in Sonoma, and he said, You can intern at any of them. And I chose Geyser Peak at the time. So harvest 2001 I was out in California and Sonoma worked under the tutelage of Daryl Brewer, who prior to coming to the United States made Grange for Penfolds and he’s a very well known winemaker in the wine world. He currently is making Colby red with a stun and all the proceeds are going to the American Heart Association. So a great person to learn a lot from I still call him my wine dad in the sense and visit when I go to California. But I thought I would have to go back to California, but I grew up in the Midwest, I’m gonna Indiana girl at hurt and happiness in my resume up here to St. Julian and what my background was, and my interest was kind of the missing puzzle piece at that time. And I’ve essentially grown up with the winery. So I’ve been here since harvest 2002. So technically 20 years, but harvest number 21 For me, and which is crazy, because I’m still only 21 years old. So. But a lot of rich history here in Michigan. My husband’s family is one of our largest grape growers. So I have that aspect. Now that ties into what we do here at the winery, but we’re very close knit family. st Julian’s a close knit family still family owned. And that’s how we run business round here. So

Drew Thomas Hendricks 8:56

that’s amazing. So over over the last 20 years, how have you seen kind of the St. Julian as a winery grow in the Michigan as a wine region? How has that evolved?

Nancie Oxley 9:06

Yeah, so gosh, there’s so much of this happening in the last 20 years, which makes me laugh because I always say, well, 20 years ago, I mean, 20 years before I got here, we were still trying to figure things out figuring out what to plant where with our different growers selecting the right site, selecting the right varietals with the right growers. Some growers are more in tune with growing the French American hybrids versus Defra, where the winery sits in pop Hall, we’re far enough away from the lake that if we plant any of the European varietals, we’re kind of pushing the envelope on what we can do here. The closer to Lake Michigan the better for us for the Cabernets, to pinos Rieslings, things like that. So, I think that’s evolved over the last 20 years, essentially, actually over the last 40 years. But for us getting into this region, and doing what we’re doing, nevertheless, 20 I think we’re dialing things There’s a lot of new people interested in in winemaking. When I started I think there are 25 wineries. Now there’s over 150 in Michigan. So the wine industry has grown incredibly. There’s, you know, a lot of longevity of growers multiple generations. Some of our growers are seventh generation, a lot of new ideas that are popping up a lot of people that are willing to push the envelope, try new things, try to print things and great ideas that are coming from all over our state. So

Drew Thomas Hendricks 10:28

that’s fantastic. 150. Now St. Julian’s is over 100 years old.

Nancie Oxley 10:33

Yeah, we’re 101 years old. So we’re the oldest winery in Michigan, where the oldest actually practice Stiller as well.

Drew Thomas Hendricks 10:41

But really rare to see a winery that’s also able to distill as well.

Nancie Oxley 10:48

That we do that we make cider. We do sparkling juices. So yeah, our portfolio oftentimes has over 180 products in at any given time. And that is attributed largely not only to the distribution of our products, but also to our wine club. So we have over 15,000 members in our wine club, morally, boy, how

Drew Thomas Hendricks 11:08

do you build a wine club to 15,000 members?

Nancie Oxley 11:14

It didn’t happen overnight by any means. But we’re trying new and different things and trying to keep it a new and fresh for all of our members. So and that’s

Bianca Harmon 11:22

specifically just your wine club that’s over 15,000 Not the spirits or ciders.

Drew Thomas Hendricks 11:29

Wow. You know, like a Cooper’s Hawk has 300,000 members, but a lot of that has to tie into the fact that the restaurants you get the discount, so they, they’ve got that safe stream. But to be able to build a wine club, to 15,000 is just an incredible feat.

Nancie Oxley 11:48

It’s been a lot of fun, so 50,000 and growing, and we like to offer our club members new and different things all the time. So we aren’t just focusing on dry wines. We have a sweet wine club. We have Rydell wines that are every vintage that are coming out. So every year you might receive our estates grill in southern blanc for awesome June proprietary blends. We have new crazy flavored wines this year, we did eliminate Sangria that seemed to hit the spot of the dry drinker as well as the Speak drinker, which was quite surprising. But it’s the new and different aspect. And we’re trying to do events for them. In 2023, we are taking a small group to Italy to travel with us. So we’re st. Julian came from and I’m just new and different and always trying to keep it fresh. So our wine club directors amazing at new ideas, and she likes to push the envelope on things too. So

Drew Thomas Hendricks 12:39

I’m pushing the envelope is kind of an understatement. And I’ve never seen a product off you like a full fledge store with all the stuff who comes up with these ideas. This is

Nancie Oxley 12:52

some come from our wine club members. A lot comes from our winemaking staff here. So everybody’s quite passionate about what we’re doing. Some come from our wine club director, our marketing team, oftentimes our sales team and wholesale, they’ll come up with crazy ideas and they’ll say Hey, can we try this? And I’m the first one this is absolutely, yeah, sometimes things work. Sometimes they don’t. But you know, we’re always willing to try to see what we can do. And, and even with grape growing, we have an amazing group of growers that we’re working with. And we have over 52 grape varietals planted, which creates a whole new conundrum. What we’re doing here at St. Julian’s, you, but we’re learning along the way of what we’re doing with some of these newer things that people don’t have planted. We were the first people in the state to plant to Aberdeen do commercially and make wine from it. And it’s proven to be an amazing bridal. It comes you know, I’ll Chris clean, pretty consistent vintage after vintage. We didn’t know we could grow Albery new gear until one of our growers approached us with the idea and said, Hey, can we plant it? And he said, Sure, let’s try it. If it works, awesome. If not, we’ll figure out what we’ll do with it. You know, another time so yeah, we kind of go into harvest every year or into our partnerships, whether it’s wine club members, our growers, our customers that are coming in the door, we want all of that feedback. We appreciate it and we you know, roll with the punches with it all.

Drew Thomas Hendricks 14:18

Yeah, well, they’re dry wines what I’m so give us break down on your dry wines and kind of the St. Julian house style there. Or your house style being the president vice president winemaking.

Nancie Oxley 14:27

Hey, yeah, so we have our core proprietary wines that you’ll see if you go into any grocery retailer here convenience store in the Midwest, and that’s what most people identify struggling with. So we have the Sweet Revenge just the envy us we call them our social ones, we have the herons. But for our dry portfolio, they fall under our bragging Nene reserve label. So the broccolini family, third generation now fourth just took over August 1. So we’re fourth generation owned and operated by the family and all of our top tier one ins get put into that sector. So, for that aspect, we have our traditional Gregorini reserves that are going to be your 500 cases on average. Also under the broken at reserve label, we have our winemaker series. So between Kyle our assistant winemaker and myself, I will do really fun small one barrel bottlings might be just 25 cases, we have some really new unique flavors that we’re working with them that we’ll do some of those that are fit to case blend, so those fall under winemaker series. Then we have the bragging reserves that are 500 and then proprietary something like our product of Sweet Revenge, we do 45,000 cases up so we do the biggest event but yeah, we also are getting down to single barrel bottlings of what we’re doing.

Drew Thomas Hendricks 15:45

Well, how’s the distribution of that? Is that 45,000 cases? That’s a that’s pretty good, good chunk of wine. How was that this is your distribution money, mainly in the Midwest, East Coast, or is it nationwide and

Nancie Oxley 15:59

in the Midwest, so all the states essentially surrounding Michigan, that’s where we’re distributed currently. But then, you know, our wine club, we can ship to all the states that we are legally shipped to. So I think we’re up to 39 that we can ship out to the core of what we’re doing is Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, Ohio, Wisconsin, down in Kentucky now. So that’s the core of what our distribution is. We’ve opened some states here and there. We’ve been in New York few times, New Jersey, Virginia, Iowa, Tennessee, but we’ve kind of tighten the reins back up to bring things a little bit closer to home and build up what we have before we decide to expand again. So

Drew Thomas Hendricks 16:39

it sounds sounds fascinating. And then so then you’ve got your very dry wines. Then you got the the sweet wines, which I can I have to admit I’ve never had a saint Julian wine. So you got to kind of educate me to send you I’m

Nancie Oxley 16:55

so sorry, wiser, or what’s essentially in distribution. So anything that with the same Julian label, you will see our most of that product portfolio, you’ll see somewhere out in distribution, all of our bracket, Nene reserve wines or dry cell lines, you had to come to one six of our tasting rooms, or be a part of our wine club.

Drew Thomas Hendricks 17:14

So that’d be like if I referenced any other kind of wine. Would it be similar to like some of the New York dry wines?

Nancie Oxley 17:22

Yeah. So Michigan, here’s New York pretty closely. So Rieslings, Cabernet fronts, things like that. We do recently in several different ways. Here we do bone dry, we do Lake harvest done easily and icewine. Before we have our estate Sauvignon Blanc, I think it is a good combination of what you’d find in barber all versus California. So you have some like grassiness tropical notes. So I think it’s a nice blend of both. We do a barrel fermented Chardonnay, so it has some oak behind it, but not I want to say early, late 90s, early 2000s, California shared it’s not like human sentiment oak barrel, but it does have a nice oak compliment. So we’re cooler climate. So our wines are going to mirror the cooler climate regions. Anything in Europe that spoiler climate, or things like that. So that’s

Drew Thomas Hendricks 18:14

definitely my style. For sure. What?

Bianca Harmon 18:18

How do you keep up with all of these ones? I mean, it’s making. I’m just like, whoa, because

Drew Thomas Hendricks 18:25

the creamiest some of these creative ones definitely I’m, I’m so anxious to talk about,

Nancie Oxley 18:31

like the day in the life of a winemaker with 160 wines. I mean, we don’t do all wines every single day. I mean, this, I figured that what is in front of my face. It’s a list of all the vineyards I was in yesterday. So it was in 36 different blocks. Simply so it starts there. And luckily, we have a computer system that can kind of hash some of those things out for us. But we’re constantly tasting, trying blending, assessing everything that’s going on here. So

Drew Thomas Hendricks 19:06

I think it really fits with the latest kind of drinking style, especially from the craft brew, and the kombucha and the seltzers people are really, they’re looking for different flavors, and they’re looking for better combinations of flavors. Is is some of these like not just experimental offerings, like the pineapple Rosae is that a new product offering? Is this something that’s been around for a while because it seems like it’s gotta be resonating in the summer? It’s been around

Nancie Oxley 19:31

for I think two years now. Okay, um, roses are hot pineapple is fun. It’s actually an apple based product on Michigan apples, and they actually started from our production of our ciders. So we had a pineapple rose a cider, we decided to introduce it as a wine. That sounds like the members and yeah, it’s been a hit so far. Watermelon is another one that I’m like, oh, watermelon. This sounds like a crazy idea and It was first a cider based product and now we have watermelon wine. Wow. Yeah, we have peanut butter and jelly wine. Yeah.

Bianca Harmon 20:08

Tell me about that. What I mean is it really tastes like a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

Nancie Oxley 20:13

Perfect for back to school. I make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches every day for my daughter. It literally tastes like a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. So it’s a Concord based wine with some peanut butter flavor in it.

Drew Thomas Hendricks 20:24

Oh, actually no nuts but does have

Nancie Oxley 20:29

a bit of flavor interest peanut butter flavor in it. So if anybody has a peanut allergy, there is no allergens and are related to peanuts in it by any means. So you can actually enjoy it. And yeah, Concord

Bianca Harmon 20:43

wines now the chocolate milk, milk and

Nancie Oxley 20:47

so they have a bass alcohol essentially to them and we use cream and different flavors to create them. So it’s like a cure almost. It is Yep, almost like that. So like a Bally’s. If you think in terms of a Bailey’s audit, it’s very similar to that. Okay, that

Bianca Harmon 21:03

makes a lot more sense. Now, what about your cotton candy wine? Because it actually tastes like cotton candy?

Nancie Oxley 21:09

Yes, like cotton candy. Like a carnival in your mouth? Carnival in your mouth? Well, yeah. So

Bianca Harmon 21:19

if people love this stuff, I presume people love

Nancie Oxley 21:22

this stuff. So some of these things we decided to do for our wine club members. So it’s in terms of winemaking. As a winemaker, I don’t want to say it’s easy making wine. But it’s easy to do vintage wines because we know what their expectations are. When we’re harvesting pedigree. I know how to make Pinot Grigio and I know how to make Riesling and I know how to make Cabernet and all of these things. And so for a dry wine consumer, they know the expectations of the wine as well. Even if it’s a blend, we just released a really nice new white blend called wildcard and it’s Gruner Veltliner and some Riesling and Pinot brie, and I shortened it. And so you have an understanding of what those varietals are going into the blood. But when you throw something out like that to a sweeter style wine club member, they it’s a different customer base that we’re working with. And so when we can add fun flavors that they might be able to identify with their childhood. It brings out a whole a whole new experience for one. So why can be scary to talk about? You know, I don’t know how many times I’ve heard, I want to learn a lot. Well, you know why it can be scary. We’re not scary people at St. Julian, we’re very friendly. We’re fun here. And we want people to drink wine. I mean, drink wine, however you like, if you want to put ice cubes in your wine, boom, I have to tell you not to put ice in your way. Do it. Don’t do it. But whatever. If you’d like to drink your red wine, chill, go for it, drink it how you like it. And that’s kind of how some of these fun flavors have evolved. Yeah, it’s a new experience for people. So the Bud Light drinkers in the world, if we can get them to try some wine, they’re not gonna drink peanut butter and jelly wine, I don’t think forever. But if that’s how they get into start understanding anything about wine, and then graduate from there down to maybe Concord base, and then graduate down there to appease Porter styleline I think it’s an amazing opportunity for us to capture those people in the wine world. And, you know, I don’t know if there’ll be fans of St. Julian forever, but we can only hope that they’ll try new and different things and, you know, maybe approach it a little bit differently than a beer or a seltzer. So,

Drew Thomas Hendricks 23:29

it’s a new and different and also the fact that it’s fun, and just taking the intimidation out of it. A couple of weeks ago, I had Bill Wilson from Wilson Creek on the show. There. I’m down in San Diego and Wilson Creek, the Temecula winery, but they they got all their fame from their almond champagne. marzipan and they just hit the hit the industry by storm because no one had really thought of like, it was just very against the wine, the you know, the city wine industry to have like that. But he brought him in and he was dominating the tastings for years. And that’s a steal their one of their most popular wines. And we were talking about just how fun it was, and how it just made it nice. It just made it easy for people to go and appreciate wine without feeling a little bit of that intimidation.

Nancie Oxley 24:17

And I bet they captured a whole new audience that they wouldn’t have before they wouldn’t have tried.

Drew Thomas Hendricks 24:22

They’ve got a coconut champagne. Yeah, they’ve got a whole a whole line of sparkling Yeah, wines that are going just booming.

Nancie Oxley 24:30

No have the highly educated wine people that don’t agree with what we’re doing. But we’re in the business of selling wine and making it and making sure people are enjoying it. And that’s what life should be all about a little bit of enjoyment. So absolutely.

Bianca Harmon 24:45

Well. Oh,

Nancie Oxley 24:47

you will be okay.

Bianca Harmon 24:48

I was just gonna say you guys have six tasting rooms. So where are all of these? I mean, where the majority of your customer clientele coming from.

Nancie Oxley 24:57

So we are Papa has almost smack dab in the middle of Chicago and Detroit. So if you think about where those two cities fall right in between there, so we have a huge amount of people that are traveling, especially people from Detroit or traveling up north, we have a lot of people from Chicago coming over to this side of the state. We have tons of things to do in Michigan in the summertime. And in the winter, most people don’t even listen to your skier don’t necessarily venture went to Michigan. But we have beautiful beaches here and golf courses and so much do especially in the summertime, so big city, people are leaving town, especially during COVID coming out to the country, per se. And that’s what the western side of Michigan is all about and what we have to offer. So we have tasting rooms right before the Indiana Michigan border, essentially, they’re all in Michigan, we have a tasting room in Metro Detroit, we have a tasting room up in the Grand Rapids area. So just north of us about an hour hour and a half of where the actual winery is. We have a tasting room over in Frankenmuth, which is a little German town on north of Detroit. They know Christmas Town USA. Some people refer to it, but it’s a German based town. And then we have a tasting room over in Dundee, which has a huge Cabela’s store. And that’s over on the other side of the state. So we used to treat strategically have placed tasting rooms where the people are essentially So some have opened, some have closed over the years. I know back in the 80s I want to say we had 13 or 14 tasting rooms open we dialed that back down. And in the last five years, we opened in two new ones one in the metro Detroit area and one in Grand Rapids. So

Drew Thomas Hendricks 26:38

Wow. And what’s the vibe on these tasting rooms, that’s the hospitality has become such an important part with the wine industry over the last, you know, 10 years in particular, at least at least from what I’ve seen in that I think a lot of it’s been with the craft brew movement and the brewery, the brew pubs have gotten so much more fun. What’s your vibe? I’m what have you seen that evolve since during your tenure at St. Julian.

Nancie Oxley 27:03

So we five years ago, we updated the main tasting room. And now all of our tasting rooms reflect that same image per se. But each one is unique in its own difference, essentially. So the one on the Indiana border, we have a beautiful outdoor patio area and a huge outdoor space, which is perfect for the people coming over from Chicago, our Grand Rapids tasting room there, it looks like a big barrel that you walk through right when you walk in and be paired with the restaurant up there. So it’s a restaurant on one side tasting room on the other. So you can have that Food and Wine Experience. Here of course and pop out you’re getting the straight up, you know full fledged winery experience of production per se. So modeling here every day, we’re pushing grapes here. So if you come here to pop while you’re getting that experience, if you go over to Metro Detroit, a lot of them are focusing on events and different things that are going on their food and wine pairings. Frankenmuth is oftentimes pairing up with the different festivals that are going on all summer long in their region. So each one is a little bit different. But when you walk in the door, you know what St Julian’s so we have that consistent vibe of who we are our identity, very approachable winery. We have a plethora of wines here. So if you see us in the grocery store, we might have 2025 wines on the show. But when you walk into our tasting rooms, you’ll be offered, you know, over 100 different products that are on the shelf. And we have tastings so of course, we want you to taste our products, we’d love to talk to you about our products, we’d love to tell our story or history. And it’s that whole experience. So when you come to see us, it’s not just about it in and out. It’s about coming in experiencing talking to us. We talk about wine club a lot and all the great things that go along with that and truly find that connection with our customers. Yeah.

Drew Thomas Hendricks 28:48

As far as the connection so when you got it with 100 100 wines or how do you structure the tastings? Do you just do like, we can do like a reserve flight a suite one flight or kind of choose your own adventure?

Nancie Oxley 28:59

Yeah, so pre COVID versus post COVID are a little bit different. But now when you come in, we have a product mix that you can choose from so we have a pre selected flights, oftentimes that you know, we’ll select them for you. We don’t offer all 100 products. But, for example, we’ll have a, I don’t know 18 Different dry wines on the list and you can select six of the ones that you would like to change whether it’s sparkling rose, a white, red, we have our spirit portfolio that’s also offered and then we’re family friendly. So we have sparkling juice tastings for the kids to that

Drew Thomas Hendricks 29:40

Oh fun. Oh, that’s a great idea. Talking about sparkling juice, I want to shift to talk about your cider. I’m a big cider fan and he got to talk about your Michigan cider.

Nancie Oxley 29:51

Now so our cider is all Michigan Apple base. So we started making cider back in the 80s. And we purposely were making it for a local rest Ratan Tata was Indian cuisine and so they requested at St. Julian’s start making cider. So we did. And then cyber kind of fell by the wayside. I don’t know. You know, I think that was impactful all over the United States. There were very many surgeries that were even out there. You know, just a handful. Most of the senators that were coming in I feel like we’re one Chuck Bass or something coming in from England.

Drew Thomas Hendricks 30:24

Yeah. It was I used to sell sell wine back in the late 90s. And I think we had to be like Strongbow and

Nancie Oxley 30:36

adapters, probably. And so I think cider kind of fell by the wayside. And I always say that St. Julian was ahead of their time. So well, we are very good friends, but my back Uncle John cider mill, and at the time, he was the president of the Michigan Apple Association. I think even as a US senator sociation. So many different positions in the Apple world. He could, you know, pushing us to get back into Senator get back into cider. And finally, we pulled the trigger. And we did, we tried to bring back our old label, which nobody really identified St. Julian with anymore, because so much time had passed. So we relaunched our cider under the forbidden fruit brand. And so cider has been doing really well for us. So we have a semi dry style, original cider that we call, we do different flavors of cider. So in the marketplace, we have black, and we call black companies since blackberry and blueberry cider. Today cider. Now we have this watermelon and pineapple Rosae. But we do some seasonal flavors, too. So for fall, we’re getting ready to do cider donuts. We’ve done cinnamon in the past, we’ve done a lavender citrus before. So we kind of have a docket of new things rolling out on those are all going to be cloud based on premise that will roll out for us for seasonal. Unless if something’s a hit, then it’ll become part of our portfolio moving forward.

Bianca Harmon 31:58

Are they? I mean, some are sweet. Do you have some that are dry? What are the

Nancie Oxley 32:02

what’s the bone dry? We did our lavender citrus was bone dry. It’s been a minute since we’ve actually done that one. But most things that are in distribution will have a little bit of residual sugar to them. It seems to fit the profile best for us and our customers in our region. So

Drew Thomas Hendricks 32:19

do you have a Seder club?

Nancie Oxley 32:22

We don’t have just the center club. We’ve talked about it. Cider is a little more tricky to ship especially having Yeah, yeah. And we I mean, we just actually increased our spirit portfolio. And there’s some things going on in legislation legally in Michigan. We can’t ship spirits at the moment. So we’re hoping some things change so we can ramp up our spirit club to the future. So

Drew Thomas Hendricks 32:45

talking about spirits. When did that come into the equation?

Nancie Oxley 32:49

We gosh, it was in the mid 90s. I think we were licensed since 1998 as a distillery and so we’ve been making a cognac style brandy. For all those years. We work with all kinds of fruits. So we’ve made apple brandy cherry brandy. We’ve made Odysseys over the years legally we couldn’t make any sort of Bacchus until legislation got changed and that’s been several years now but we’re now making Bacchus we make vodka from grapes vodka from cherries, Michigan cherries, and we make vodka from Michigan potatoes and our

Drew Thomas Hendricks 33:24

if you can make a note of D Why can’t you make a Why couldn’t you make a vodka

Nancie Oxley 33:28

was in legislation and how the bill was initially written that a winery distillery could not make vodka so Oh,

Bianca Harmon 33:38

That’s crazy.

Drew Thomas Hendricks 33:39

Great. That would be an OTA V.

Nancie Oxley 33:46

Essentially about oh, well, no, because Oh to be back has to come up is still at 190 proof to technically be vodka and OD is less than that.

Drew Thomas Hendricks 33:54

And then watered down or then add water back down to 80. So I’m unclear about what would what would actually classify something as a vodka

Nancie Oxley 34:04

after still 190 off the

Drew Thomas Hendricks 34:06

stood 180 Okay, well, that makes sense. And, okay, so now you can do vodka. And so what’s your most popular spirit?

Bianca Harmon 34:15

Looks like the rums.

Nancie Oxley 34:17

rums are big. Fortunately, we don’t have any sugar cane in Michigan. So we’re getting that outside of our great state but because they’re all Michigan growing. And that’s huge. Yeah, rums. de vaca is the flavor Bacchus had been crazy for us. We actually now have a bourbon so we’ve been working with Michigan grown grains that we’ve been laying down on Bourbon for the last few years. So we’re gonna have a Michigan grill and bourbon. So

Bianca Harmon 34:47

all these ones that are flavored are you using not like water? You know, in your wines are you using actually watermelon and your coconut rum and you’re like, are you guys just adding flavoring or how how Are we?

Nancie Oxley 35:00

Why are you doing this? It depends on what it is. But if it’s a flavored product, we’re using all natural flavors. So nothing artificial. They’re all natural. So for watermelon wine, it’s actually watermelon flavor that we’re working with. But we have a blueberry wine that’s 100% Blueberries that we’re crushing the blueberry fruit same with cherries. So depends on what it is a fruit? Well, the

Bianca Harmon 35:23

vodka from cherries is actually cherries.

Nancie Oxley 35:27

Yeah, so it doesn’t taste like cherries at all. It’s not cherry flavored vodka is just vodka from distilled cherry wine, essentially. Yeah.

Drew Thomas Hendricks 35:35

We had a rocket rocket vodka in the middle. And they’re just distill their, their vodka is made from distilled apples. Okay, yep.

Nancie Oxley 35:45

That here? Little slight nuance on that? Yeah, so our black different cherries has a really neat floral component to it that you wouldn’t expect from cherries essentially. So

Drew Thomas Hendricks 35:59

there’s, I feel like I’m have three different three different production facilities is not the only thing I’m seeing is proof syrup, which is a great idea.

Nancie Oxley 36:10

So we don’t make proof Sarah, that is a company that we’ve been working with. So

Drew Thomas Hendricks 36:14

now that we Okay, so who founds

Nancie Oxley 36:18

we do not make the syrup know that they don’t

Drew Thomas Hendricks 36:24

like a great idea.

Nancie Oxley 36:26

They have been great partners with us. So since we’ve expanded our spirit portfolio, it’s really up their game because we offer cocktails in our tasting room. And so that’s been a really good addition. Yeah, so if you’re not a wine drinker, you can still come in to St. Julian, and you can do a spirit tasting. But we also have craft cocktails, that change on a monthly basis that you can enjoy those to hear that that one, so you probably

Bianca Harmon 36:49

have a full liquor license there to serve liquor, because that’s you know,

Nancie Oxley 36:54

so we had to produce any of the liquor that we serve. So we can’t serve Bud Light out of our tasting room by any means of how Michigan law is. So anything that we are serving that is alcohol base, we just want we must make on site. So.

Wow. So yeah,

Drew Thomas Hendricks 37:12

well, yeah. So that so the other company Proof Syrup just to continue what I like about so it looks like it’s the bitters and the oils and the simple syrup together. So that you can make it’s really almost like a ready next cocktail. I have the spirits that you guys have.

Nancie Oxley 37:27

Right, that’s exactly what they are. So

Drew Thomas Hendricks 37:29

that’s a great idea. A little bit, a little bit. So yeah, obviously, pumpkin spice I bet that’s going to start. It’s it’s going to be popular coming up in the next few months here. Yep. That’s all with all this stuff with all this like, it’s like a playground, a creators playground for alcohol. I can see how it’s easy to stay motivated. But I always like to ask this, how do you stay motivated over 21 years of,

Nancie Oxley 37:59

um, well, I’ve been blessed working for a company that allows me to express my creativity. That’s been a huge part of why I have been around here for so long. So the first 15 years of my tenure at daybreak, naman was here. And he was a huge proponent of that, and upon his passing, brother John took over. And he continued that same tradition, he was like, you know, I don’t want to inhibit any of your creativity. And he’s like, run with it, do what you do. That’s what makes you know, St. Julian’s portfolio what it is. And that’s what keeps me going every day. But not just that, but the amazing team that I have here. So we are a very large winery in terms of Michigan, per se. And I couldn’t do it without my crew. Aren’t my crews amazing some of these guys I’ve worked with for the entire 20 years have been here. Some are newer to the staff. Some have been here for half the time, but their passion and their fuel and seeing you know what they’re doing and being part of this master game that we’re playing of Tetris, I feel like most days it’s that teamwork and that family aspect of coming in here every single day that we’re working together. So it’s a great crew. They’re fun to work with, whether it’s front of the house or production and we all motivate each other day after day. So yeah,

Drew Thomas Hendricks 39:18

how large your team is your team now. I mean, that’s a

Nancie Oxley 39:21

we have a small team. So in terms of winemaking, there’s myself our assistant Kyle and then we have an enologist Kayla here. And we have six guys in our cellar four guys on our bottling line to maintenance and three that work our warehousing so we have, you know, right around 20 People that are part of that production team, but for the actual winemaking end of things and cellar. It’s a pretty lean and mean crew. So we wear a lot of different hats of what we’re doing.

Drew Thomas Hendricks 39:52

That is for that for the breadth of your offerings. That’s a that’s a pretty that’s got to be an 18 for that.

Nancie Oxley 40:02

Most days we try to be an ATM.

Drew Thomas Hendricks 40:05

Well, Nancie, you’ve got, I mean, the courage to just kind of break boundaries and norms and just really just push push the edge of what of what Warren can be. It’s, it’s amazing. Where can people find out more about you and St. Julian winery?

Nancie Oxley 40:20

Yeah, sure. So you can hop over to our website. So stjulian.com. And all of our informations there, you can find out about our website, our portfolio wines. So that website is constantly changing. You can see where we ship throughout the United States. All of that information is on there. We have a big sale weekend coming up the weekend after Labor Day. So 25% off case sale. Oftentimes, we’re doing plenty shipping here. So put together mix or Match Case and get it cheaper a penny. But yeah, we’re pretty accessible. Our informations on there. We have a great team that answers any sort of questions. If you submit any sort of questions online. We’re here. We love what we do. And we’d love to share all the excitement with all of our customers. And people like you guys.

Drew Thomas Hendricks 41:09

Nancie, thank you so much for joining us. This is this has been quite a quite an interesting discussion. I’m enthused.

Nancie Oxley 41:17

Yeah. Thank you. Thank you. I’m excited to send you some stuff. So

Drew Thomas Hendricks 41:22

have a great, great harvest.

Nancie Oxley 41:26

We will so just getting started. So we have about 10 more weeks so crazy, but

Drew Thomas Hendricks 41:33

Well, thank you so much.

Nancie Oxley 41:35

Alright, see you guys later.

Outro 41:44

Thanks for listening to the Legends Behind the Craft podcast. We’ll see you again next time and be sure to click Subscribe to get future episodes.