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Wednesday, 28 August 2013 23:42

Q&A: Nancie Corum-Oxley, St. Julian Wine Co. Inc.

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Q&A: Nancie Corum-Oxley, St. Julian Wine Co. Inc. COURTESY PHOTO

Michigan’s first female head winemaker at a commercial winery was just honored by her alma mater for her role in the food industry. In August Purdue University awarded St. Julian Wine Co.’s Nancie Corum-Oxley the “Outstanding Food Science Award.” She graduated in 2010, having studied under renowned enologist Dr. Richard Vine. The award will be presented in October. As head winemaker at the Paw Paw-based company since 2010, Corum-Oxley has managed the grape harvest and overseen the day-to-day activity of the winery’s cellar, which produces 250,000 cases per year. Corum-Oxley spoke with MiBiz about the wine industry in Michigan and its evolution.

People don’t always think about winemaking as science. What goes into making wine?

There is definitely a lot of chemistry and microbiology that takes part in winemaking. … I enjoy working with numbers, having hard facts and data. But there is definitely the part where taste profile comes in that makes a wine what it is.

So is there a bit of art and science in winemaking?

There is definitely an art in winemaking. … Some winemakers are considered chemists and some are considered artists. … I like to think of it as the best of both worlds. All the numbers should be exactly what you think they need to be. But it doesn’t make the wine be aromatic and fruitful and flavorful. That all comes from the art of winemaking. Wine is a living organism so there are always microorganisms living in wine that can definitely make a flaw in your wine. But I like to say there is a lot of art in the winemaking.

In what ways is Michigan conducive to winemaking?

Michigan is kind of a new, emerging wine region. We have been growing grapes in Michigan for several hundred years. Welches is just four miles south of (St. Julian). The majority of the grapes that are grown in Michigan are actually juice grapes. Back in the early 70s, the wine region in Northwest Michigan started planting the French-American hybrid varietals. Our climate is conducive to them (and we are able to make world-class wines in a cool climate).

Does it compare to other regions that are better known for the craft?

I think we are a very successful wine region, we’re just very young, just coming out and being discovered. … Rieslings are showing quite proudly in all regions of Michigan, (competing) all over the world. Last year, we won the best sweet riesling in the world at Riverside International Wine Competition against wineries from all over.

Do Michigan wine drinkers, in general, have different tastes than other regions?

I think it’s definitely changing. Back in the day, everything used to be sweet and fortified. That’s because here in the Midwest, we all grew up on pop and Kool-Aid, and so by nature, the palate of the Midwest wine drinker tends to be sweeter.

How diverse can Michigan be when making different varieties of wine?

(Michigan has) a cool climate, so to have that big, bold, fruit bomb, high-alcohol wine — it’s just not really possible here in our climate. We don’t have the warm weather (and) Pacific winds like they do in California in Napa Valley. But I think we do have some wines that are quite comparable on the red side. Syrah down here in Southwest Michigan is doing quite well for us. We recently released a wine called Cock of the Walk that’s a blend of nine different grape varietals. A lot of the people that are into the California (cabernets) are really enjoying (it). … We definitely are doing some award-winning wines, not just at St. Julian, but across the state. We do have some nice, drier options we are doing.

What’s your outlook for the wine industry in Michigan?

I think we are going to continue to grow as a region. I think that we are going to continue to become more nationally recognized as a state. I think we’re just at the cusp of that. California went through it back in the ’70s. Everybody drank European wines, French wines … and then suddenly discovered California was this great region. In five years, people are going to be knowing us for rieslings (and) pinot grigios.

How does St. Julian plan to take advantage of that growing interest in the state?

I think we will continue to grow in winemaking and do more experimental grape varieties. We have some tempranillo going in the ground. Quite a few different varietals. I think we are going to continue to be innovators in the wine industry and kind of be in the forefront of the ever-changing industry. We definitely like to make what we enjoy, but we are also consumer-driven, so we are going to make sure we are pleasing our consumers as the most important aspect of our business.

Interview conducted and condensed by Nick Manes

Read 84963 times Last modified on Wednesday, 02 April 2014 13:48

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