The Cozzarelli Legacy: A family steeped in winemaking

Flashback to WineMaker magazine’s Summer 2000 issue: Dr. John Cozzarelli was featured in the “Cellar Dwellers” section with his 90-gallon (340-L) batches of wine made each year. Also on display were his label designs and a description of his extravagant annual wine-tasting party. His interest in winemaking started after a visit to his physician, who told him that drinking a glass of red wine each night will help to lower his cholesterol. That one suggestion opened a door to past, present, and future, connecting generations and sparking a familial renaissance.

Around the same time he was starting his winemaking journey he also welcomed three sons into the world: John Paul, Nicholas, and Marc. I am the middle child and the three of us grew up watching him make wine each year. We would also crash his yearly September Wine Party after the babysitter would drop us back home . . . the parties ran deep into the night and babysitter had a curfew.

Passing down tradition is of the utmost importance in Italian families.

Over the past 20 years my father has attracted many friends to join him in his winemaking adventures.

“I did not only want my friends to make good wine, but I wanted them to appreciate each step of the process from picking the grapes to labeling the bottles . . . because it’s all about presentation,” he told me. This ardent group of winemakers make more than 700 gallons (2,650 L) of wine each year. It’s a lot of grapes!

Passing down tradition is of the utmost importance in Italian families. Just like my father took over the winemaking tradition from his grandfather, Domenico Carissimo, he always dreamed of passing it down to my brothers and me. My grandfather on my mom’s side was also a winemaker whose family has been making wine for generations.

Most recently, I have become one of the people my father has taught to make wine. Growing up, I would help my dad with some steps in the process, but I’m proud to say this is the first year I made wine from start to finish. He helped me make a 30-gallon (113-L) batch this year consisting of four red grape varieties and two white, which we picked from Corrado’s Market in Clifton, New Jersey, the same market he has bought his grapes from the last 20 years.

As long as I can remember, I’ve always held a strong passion for connecting deeper with my Italian heritage, which is why I wanted my first wines to be Italian grapes. So I opted for Brunello, Lambrusco, and Trebbiano to honor that tradition. To me, it’s about my roots and the sacrifices my relatives made to come to this country to give my family and me a better life. This love for the Italian culture also inspired me to study Italian history and literature at Seton Hall University, where I became a La Motta Scholar, which is the highest honor of Italian studies there.

Everything I accomplish in life is dedicated to all of my relatives who left Italy. The least I can do is continue the beautiful traditions that they passed down. Throughout all the hardships both sides of my family faced coming to this country, their strong love for their heritage was never lost.

I’m looking forward to continue making wine for many years to come, and I’m especially enjoying this winemaking season now that my brothers, John Paul and Marc, have joined my father and me. We are all looking forward to seeing my family continue to share and pass down this passion to neighbors and future generations!

The author proudly dumping grapes into the crusher/destemmer for his latest batch of wine. (From left: Marc, John, John Paul, and Nicholas)