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From the time Pete Seghesio was 5 years old, he was spellbound by the grapes.

He watched as his family life revolved around them and before long he did his part to groom them.

"It was so special to be a living part of the season," Seghesio said, "seeing the seasons change with the vine and the steps that go with each part of the year."

The former CEO of Seghesio Family Vineyards, clad in khaki shorts and a casual shirt, has had a mid-life change of ambition. Seghesio, 47, said the recent sale of the winery to Crimson Wine Group was the best move for the entire family and, for himself, a saving grace.

"I believe this move probably saved my life somewhat," he said. "To be successful in this business it takes everything one has. ... I was a workaholic. I think all the Seghesios share that gene!"

The job was difficult to turn off, Seghesio said.

"I was always thinking about work and what we need to do better," he said. "I was one of those guys that would wake up at 4 a.m. or 4:30 a.m. and start thinking about work and then couldn't go back to sleep."

Seghesio continues to work at the Healdsburg winery, but now he has the less taxing title of winegrower.

"I am gladly just the brand ambassador and grape guy," he said. "Being the CEO of a small winery where everything rests on the success of the family business is a huge responsibility. ... Many people look to the wine business as a rich man's hobby, but for us it was what put bread on the table. Everything rested on its success."

Seghesio said the sale was also a blessing for the family.

"Part of it was we had a significant portion of the owners who wanted to get out," he said. "Our family has been and is united. This move allowed us to go out on top."

The other rationale for the sale had to do with the wine industry itself and the outlook for mid-sized players.

"Brands stuck in the middle will have large challenges," Seghesio said. "They are too small to demand the focus from large distributors but too large to be recognized as artisan producers that sell the majority of their wine direct."

Small-scale winemaking seemed to be the antidote for both the mid-size dilemma and Seghesio's longing to return to a simpler time. His "second act," as Seghesio refers to it, will be producing a brand with his wife, Cathy, and sons Will, 8, and Joey, 12.

The label is called "Journeyman," which means the level in a trade between "apprentice" and "master." Seghesio said the goal is to teach the boys every step in the process of growing and making wine.

The winemaking will take place at their Tuscan-styled property on 140 acres in Healdsburg.

"We have our barrels and a forklift," Seghesio said. "A small press is on the way along with a few new barrels. ... I hope it all fits in the small bonded winery (1,200 square feet) in our cellar at home." If not, he said, they'll build a barn next year.

The plan is to make a chardonnay from the 2011 crush and bottle about 500 cases, with the long-term goal of producing up to 1,000 cases.

"I choose this because I didn't want to have any conflict of interest with our Seghesio portfolio, which is zinfandel and Italian varietal based," he said.

Advisors include the Dutton family and the Martinelli family in Sonoma County and Craig Williams, a winemaker formerly with Phelps Winery in Napa Valley.

Cathy describes her job title is "cellar rat and marketer." She said the best part of the project is the commute and the worst part will be the fruit flies. Joking aside, Cathy noted that the real benefit is "Our kids will have an understanding of grape growing and winemaking similar to what Pete experienced in his childhood."

Seghesio said learning a craft when you're young is when it really sticks, and the boys are primed for the adventure.

Asked why he wanted to make wine, Will replied, "Because it's fun. It's what our family does." Joey added, "driving the forklift is a lot of fun..."

Seghesio recalls his childhood well — pruning the vines in the dead of winter, riding the John Deere Crawler in the spring, moving irrigation pipes in the summer and weighing the grapes during harvest.

"I do feel with so much less on my shoulders, it's allowing me to be better with my kids and to give them the time they deserve," he said. "The goal is not just to teach them, but to make memories. ... A childhood only comes once."

Staff writer Peg Melnik can be reached at 521-5310 or peg.melnik@pressdemocrat.com.