Executive MBA alumnus Lorenzo "Rocco" Califano and his Mulvane Wine Company get rave reviews for debut vintage

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Inside Jersey Magazine recently published a story about Lorenzo Califano (Rutgers EMBA, 2003) and the early success of his Mulvane Wine Co. The story, written by T.J. Foderaro, is posted here with the permission of Inside Jersey. Photos by Noah K. Murray.

When the 2011 Mulvane "White Hawk Vineyard" Syrah garnered a rave review from Wine Enthusiast magazine late last year, no one was more surprised than winery founder Rocco Califano.

After all, Califano had launched the California winery only a few years earlier and had had no experience as a winemaker before that. He has a busy "day job" overseeing sales in North and South America for an Italian jewelry maker — not to mention a wife and three children. And he lives in New Jersey, which limits the amount of time he can spend monitoring his winemaking operation in the Napa Valley.

So you can imagine Califano's surprise when Wine Enthusiast gave his debut vintage a score of 93 out of 100 points. The accompanying review pronounced it a "hedonistic syrah." The wine has "addictive aromas of hot blackberry pie laced with cinnamon, allspice, cola nut and a stewed cherry sauce," the review said. "Dark plum fruit, but with the acidity of the plum skin, meets with candied flavors of blackberry syrup and the freshness of soda water."

Califano, who was known as Larry at Rutgers, "stood out as a superstar from Day One,"  EMBA Director Farrokh Langdana wrote on LinkedIn. (Photo by Noah K. Murray)

For Califano, the praise was especially sweet, considering he had spent the previous two years dividing his time between learning the winemaking trade and repairing extensive damage to his Little Silver home from Hurricane Sandy. "I would have been happy with an 88," Califano says of the Wine Enthusiast rating.

Many wine drinkers entertain fantasies of one day having a vineyard of their own. A much smaller number realize that dream.

Those who do typically follow one of two paths. There are the Wall Street moguls and tech millionaires willing to pay whatever is necessary to plant vineyards, build a winery and hire a staff. Then, there's the intensely passionate home winemaker who buys a few tons of grapes, rents space in a "custom crush" facility and starts out small, in hopes of eventually being "discovered" and gradually increasing production to meet demand.

Califano fits neither of those profiles. While he has always enjoyed wine and maintains a modest collection, he isn't the type who spent nights and weekends making jug wine in the basement. He's had a successful career in luxury goods sales, but wasn't in a position to write an eight-figure check to purchase 25 acres in California wine country.

So why, when most executives are starting to think about retirement, did Califano suddenly get it in his head that he wanted to go into the winemaking business?

The story begins, in a way, on the volcanic island of Ischia, in the Tyrrhenian Sea off the coast of Italy. That's where his parents were born, and where his ancestors grew grapes and made wine for their own consumption. After moving to the United States and settling in Brooklyn with his young family, his father, a tailor by trade, did what countless other Italian immigrants did: He made his own wine.

About five years ago, Rocco Califano started brainstorming ideas for a small business — something that would eventually allow him to exit the corporate world. His instinct was to find something that would connect him to his past, to honor his Italian heritage and recognize the charitable spirit of his late father, Salvatore, and his mother, Maria.

Suddenly, it dawned on him: wine.

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