St. Julian Winery president David Braganini dies unexpectedly

Sandra Silfven
Special to The Detroit News

David Braganini, president of St. Julian Winery, who ushered this landmark family-owned Michigan winery through the tough early days of regional winemaking to producing world-class Rieslings and Pinot Noirs today, died unexpectedly July 5, 2016, at the age of 65.

In an earlier picture, David Braganini is shown with winemaker Nancie Corum Oxley. Mr. Braganini contracted with growers for most of his grapes, but in recent years planted his own vineyard in Coloma for the Braganini Reserve wines.

He was a force at St. Julian for more than 40 years and presided over the winery’s 90th anniversary in 2011. St. Julian is the state’s oldest winery and the biggest producer of wine made from Michigan grapes.

“He was a pioneer, a visionary, a true trailblazer that led Michigan winemaking into a dynamic part of the growing American wine industry,” said Nancie Corum Oxley, St. Julian winemaker.

“I had the privilege of working side by side with this iconic man whose passion to create something new and different never seemed to disappoint,” she said.

Key achievements, she said, included Mr. Braganini’s role in the licensing of satellite tasting rooms, the creation of the Lake Michigan Shore Wine Trail and the legislative push for wineries producing spirits. He was the first to put modern Stelvin screw caps on wine bottles and was such a believer in Michigan products he had barrels custom-made from Michigan oak.

Mr. Braganini was 22 when he joined the family business and 32 when he became its head. He oversaw the winery’s transition from sweet fortified dessert wines to dry European table wines. He introduced the Braganini Reserve line, the lighter-style Heron blends and varietally focused St. J. line, along with brandy, vodka and eaux-de-vie – all made from Michigan grapes. He also updated the Paw Paw production plant, which has the largest capacity of any winery in Michigan.

“When I was a kid, I picked the grapes after school every day,” he told me for a story I wrote in 2011 about the winery’s 90th anniversary. “I loved it, and I was the only one in the family that did. I grew up in Paw Paw and ate dinner at my grandfather’s table every Sunday.”

Mr. Braganini’s Italian immigrant grandfather, Mariano Meconi, laid the roots for St. Julian in 1921 in Windsor, Ontario, establishing Border City Wine Cellars, which he changed to Meconi Wine Co. and moved to Detroit after the repeal of prohibition in 1934, and then to Paw Paw in 1936 to be close to the vineyards.

Mr. Braganini took a job at the winery after graduating from King’s College in Pennsylvania in the spring of 1973. It was a difficult time, as both of his uncles running the business died of heart attacks six weeks apart. That left Mr. Braganini and his father to chart the future course.

Mr. Braganini is survived by his daughter, Angela Braganini; two sisters, Diana Statsman and Marianne (Douglas) Barthel; and two brothers, John (Debbie) Braganini and Thomas (Bernadette) Braganini. He was preceded in death by his son, Gene Braganini.

Visitation is Sunday, July 10, from 2-8 p.m., with Rosary at 7:30 p.m. at the Adams Funeral Home, 502 W. Michigan Ave., Paw Paw. Mass of Christian burial will take place Monday, July 11, at 10 a.m. at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Paw Paw.