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'Cheers to 100 Years': Michigan distillery celebrates a century of winemaking

St. Julian Wine Co., based in Paw Paw, Mich., has been in business since 1921, thanks to generations of family who made sure it rolled with the changes.

PAW PAW, Mich. — Any business that's still around a century after it started means somebody's doing something right. For a Michigan-based winery, success can be attributed to two things - taste and family.

It all truly began in 1918 when Mariano Meconi immigrated from Italy to the United States. 

"Mariano was my grandfather and he started Border City Winery in Windsor, Canada in 1921," said John Braganini, who is Meconi's grandson and currently the president of St. Julian Wine Co. 

Meconi's winery managed to survive Prohibition and eventually moved to Detroit, Mich. in 1933.

"He renamed it 'Meconi Wine Company' when he moved the business to Detroit," John said. 

It was three years later that Mariano decided to move his winery to Paw Paw, Mich., because that's where he learned Michigan's best grapes were.

"He had a steady fruit source," John said of his grandfather. "[When he got to Paw Paw], he renamed the winery, 'Italian Wine Co.'"

Five years later, the company's name would change again, triggered by the onset of World War II.

"That's when [Mariano] renamed it, 'St. Julian Wine Co.', which it's been ever since," John said.

Over the last 75-plus years, St. Julian Wine Co. has emerged as as the elite winery in Michigan, winning what seems like endless national and international awards. 

"It's because of family, and because we haven't made enough mistakes to go out of business, and we haven't been smart enough to be more successful," John joked. 

St. Julian Winery has survived Prohibition, wars, recessions and pandemics over the course of its century of existence, thanks to four generations of Mariano's family owning and operating it.

"When [Mariano] stepped down in the 1960s, he turned the winery over to his two sons, but both tragically died in their 40s," John revealed. "The business then transitioned to my father in the early 1970s, who then handed it over to my brother, Dave, in 1982."

Dave Braganini piloted the winery until his untimely death in 2016, which then allowed John to take over.

"Two years after I assumed control of the company, my sons Apollo and Dario stepped in to the picture to help me," John added. 

John says his son, Apollo, is in line to take over the winery.

"It's a huge honor," said Apollo. "My plan is to see this into 150 years and then hopefully hand it off to my son, Apollo III, if I'm lucky," said Apollo.

Meantime, St. Julian Wine Co. has begun setting its sights on its next century of winemaking, hoping the future fourth and fifth generations can maintain the success started by Mariano Meconi in 1921.

"I hope we're good enough to keep it going," John said.

If you're interested in learning more about St. Julian Wine Co., or possibly purchasing wine from them directly, click here to be taken to their official website.

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