Rachel Ann Seghesio, matriarch of the Seghesio winemaking family whose warmth and graciousness made her the perfect winery ambassador at home and abroad, died of a stroke Thursday evening. She was 80.
The wife of the late Pete Seghesio, she had been in good health and was still hosting Seghesio's Family table food and wine pairings every Friday and Saturday.
"She was our greatest ambassador at Seghesio," said her son, Pete Seghesio, Jr. "She was our brightest light. There was nobody that was more genuine, more happy to greet you."
He said that when the family winery went from private bulk wine business to promoting its own label, his mother became his most powerful promotional tool.
"I joined the family business in 1982 and my whole sales pitch was, &‘Please come by and visit us because my mom's pasta is the best pasta in Sonoma County," he said. "That was my standard line, whether I was in Chicago, Indiana, Texas or Florida."
Seghesio was born Rachel Ann Passalacqua, the daughter of wine grower Emil Passalacqua on Feb. 28, 1930. She was raised on the Passalacqua ranch just north of Healdsburg.
She attended Healdsburg Elementary School and Healdsburg High School. She then enrolled in the San Francisco College for Women at Lone Mountain, where she received her teaching credential.
She taught in Sonoma County schools in the Windsor area for five years.
She met her husband, Pete Seghesio, at her father's ranch.
"Pete was a large grape buyer for Seghesio and he knew that Emil had great grapes," said Cathy Seghesio, Pete Jr.'s wife.
"He would go out to the ranch to buy grapes and he met Rachel Ann on one of those trips," she said. "They courted, fell in love and were married."
The couple married in 1956 and she devoted her life to the family business and her husband. She weighed grapes and did the bookkeeping and the payroll. She also cooked three meals a day for her husband and later her two children.
"She was your typical generous, kind, magical, Italian mother," said her daughter, Camille Seghesio. "She was a super woman, very hard working, self reliant, an old-school mother and wife. She was also a lot of fun."
Three years ago, Rachel Ann Seghesio was honored as one of the pioneers of the Healdsburg Historical Society.
Over the years, she enjoyed sharing the Seghesio family history. She was proud of the Chianti home ranch in the Alexander Valley that was purchased by her in-laws, Angela and Edoardo Seghesio, in 1895.
In 2006, the Seghesio family opened private tasting rooms to showcase the label. Seghesio, who has semi-retired at that time, returned to the business as hostess for the family table food and wine pairings.
The tasting rooms were modeled after the homey atmosphere that she maintained in her Queen Ann Victorian ranch home.
"My mom was always so excited about the brand," said her son Pete. "That's when it really went wide open with her."
Services are currently being planned by the family.