The Women of St. Julian
As we continue through Women’s History Month, we want to reflect on the contributions that women have made to St. Julian from past to present.
Women have always been a strong part of the story of St. Julian Winery, starting with Avelia – the wife of founder Mariano Meconi and mother of four children, including Julia Meconi who was born in 1926 just five years after the then Border City Wine Cellars opened in Canada. Julia grew up in the wine industry – first in Detroit and later in Paw Paw, where the company flourished not far from the Lake Michigan shoreline. She and her brothers, Robert and Eugene, eventually became the second of what is now four generations to work within the award-winning winery. In 1947, Julia married Apollo “Paul” Braganini who himself made his way up the ranks of Michigan’s largest and longest-operating winery.
Sadly, Julia passed away in 1971 after a lengthy battle with breast cancer at the young age of 45. Her legacy, however, remains. In 2010, St. Julian released Simply Pink (a semi-dry blush wine) – dedicated to Julia’s memory – with a donation from every bottle sold benefitting the National Breast Cancer Foundation. Later that year, it was named “Rosé of the Year” at the Indy International Wine Competition.
“Julia Meconi Braganini was easily the most influential person in my life,” notes son and winery chairman, John Braganini. “Her strength, intuition and discipline crafted my character and continues to guide me today. Because of her courage and fortitude, by design, I have chosen to surround myself with strong, capable women throughout my business career. At St. Julian, the hand that rocks the cradle is apparent in everything we do!”
Without question both Avelia and Julia laid the groundwork for the women of St. Julian who reign today, from the tasting rooms to the office to the winery itself. These women boast over 100 collective years of experience with the centennial company.
Nancie Oxley: Vice President - Winemaking & Head Winemaker
When Nancie Oxley was hired at St. Julian in 2002, she was on a groundbreaking path as Michigan’s first professional female winemaker. With over 20 years of experience, her high energy and enthusiasm for winemaking is evident through the company’s diverse wine, cider and spirit portfolio. She has received the trifecta of honors as a Purdue University alumna at the department level, college level, and university-wide level. Her Purdue awards include the title of 2022 Purdue University Old Master, 2019 Winner for the Purdue University College of Agriculture’s Distinguished Agriculture Alumni Award, and 2013 Winner for the Purdue University Department of Food Science Outstanding Alumni Award, along with the industry honor of 2019 40 Under 40 Fruit & Vegetable Growers Magazine Award Winner, and number of other Winemaking & Distilling Awards and Recognitions. She received a BS in Food Manufacturing Operations with double minors in Agribusiness Management and Organizational Leadership & Supervision and a MS in AgriBusiness Management from Purdue University and a MBA from the Kelley School of Business, Indiana University.
Kayla McQuinn: Assistant Winemaker
As Assistant Winemaker, Kayla McQuinn is responsible for checking the quality and chemistry of all St. Julian wines, from grape to bottle. She graduated from Albion College in May of 2020, receiving a bachelor’s degree in Biology (where she also worked as a teaching assistant and lab technologist for biology and chemistry courses). Kayla was a harvest intern at St. Julian and was hired as an Enologist just months later. She continues to be a strong asset to the team.
Sarah Braganini: Chief Financial Officer
Sarah Braganini has an extensive business background that has enabled her to develop expertise in many areas through her career. An accountant by trade, she spent her early years with a mid-size accounting firm in the Upper Peninsula. Seeking a greater challenge and opportunity, Sarah transitioned into commercial insurance sales which allowed her to end up owning and operating her own agency. After a successful 10 year run, she sold her agency, spent a year in a consulting role, and in 2017, came to St. Julian to assist in the ownership transition within the Braganini family. Through necessity and performance, she stepped into her current role as part of an executive reorganization in 2022. Sarah was a star athlete at Iron Mountain High School, holds a double major degree from Northern Michigan University, and resides in Portage, MI, with her husband John.
Dana Vandeveer: Human Resources Manager
Dana Vandeveer has been the Human Resources Manager for the St. Julian Winery since January 2022. She began her career with arts administration in downtown Kalamazoo before finding a knack for the people and culture side of business. She started her HR journey within the government sector before working for the WMU medical school. After moving to the area, she came to St. Julian to be closer to home. She possesses a professional certification in Human Resources from the Cornell School of Industrial and Labor Relations and earned her Master’s degree in Human Resources Management from the Pennsylvania State University in 2021. She loves being able to work for the place that created her favorite sparkling wine as a youngster.
MARKETING, SALES AND PROMOTION
Alyssa Sonnevil: Marketing Director
Innovating the wine marketing industry is at the forefront of focus for Alyssa Sonnevil. Bringing an appetite for success, she has guided branding efforts and launch strategies for the St. Julian portfolio. With degrees in public relations, advertising and promotion, and event management from Western Michigan University, she enjoys leading the marketing, communications and public relations efforts of the company.
Amy Bobo: Lead Marketing Designer
Amy Bobo joined St. Julian in February 2020 as Direct to Consumer Marketing Manager. She was later promoted to Lead Marketing Designer where she uses her extensive skill set to create product packaging and promotional material. In addition to considerable design work, she continues to spearhead customer relationship management accounts at St. Julian including social media.
Cassandra Poné: Wine Club Director
Developing a love of wine through traveling and working with her husband in their restaurant ventures, Cassandra Poné jumped at the opportunity to join St. Julian in 2012. With a degree in English from the University of Michigan, and a teaching certification from Western Michigan University, Cassandra found the perfect career creating opportunities for people to connect and learn through wine. As Wine Club Director, she collaborates with the winemaking, marketing and tasting room teams to create new wines, events and experiences for members to enhance their journey with wine. A certified Sommelier and WSET (Wine & Spirits Education Trust) Level 3 Certification holder, Cassandra believes that wine is meant to be fun and approachable, and she enjoys sharing this discovery with her Wine Club members.