St. Francis Winery CEO Christopher Silva Dies

Innovative winery leader remembered for his tenacity and energy.
St. Francis Winery CEO Christopher Silva.

Christopher Silva, the perpetually optimistic and community-minded president and CEO of St. Francis Winery & Vineyards in Sonoma County, California, died June 20. He was 52.

Silva was 33 when he joined the winery in 1998, became CEO five years later and led a team that gathered numerous accolades for the quality of its wines and the emphasis on sustainability in the St. Francis cellars and vineyards.

In April, Silva told friends that he had been diagnosed with brain cancer and was undergoing treatment. He died at Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital, where he had been chairman of the board of trustees.

Dairy Farm to Law School to Wine Visionary

A fifth-generation Sonoma County native, Silva was raised in a family of dairy farmers. He graduated from Loyola Law School in Los Angeles and practiced law for several years before arriving at St. Francis through a personal connection with the winery’s founder, Joe Martin.

Under Silva, St. Francis solidified its position as a top-quality producer of Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and old-vine Zinfandel, while also creating a food and wine experience at the winery that eventually earned recognition from OpenTable as “#1 Restaurant in America.”

Green credentials were another emphasis during Silva’s tenure. He installed at St. Francis one of the early winery solar energy systems in 2004, actively worked in water and creek conservation, adapted eco-friendly packaging and planted a vegetable garden on-site to supply the winery’s kitchen.

Friends and business associates said Silva will be remembered for his warm, outgoing personality as much as for his business acumen.

“Chris was so energetic, an amazing people person who was so charismatic that he connected with people right away,” said Cathleen Burke Visscher, a former senior vice president at Kobrand Corp., which represented St. Francis in national sales and marketing.

“Chris was able to take something that was growing and maintain the quality from end to end while it grew,” she said.

Silva served on numerous non-profit boards, received honors from the University of Nevada Las Vegas and was profiled in The New York Times and various business publications.

Silva is survived by his father and stepmother, a brother, his former wife, and daughter and son.

Published on June 23, 2017
Topics: Obitiuary
About the Author
Jim Gordon
Contributing Editor

Reviews wines from California.

Jim Gordon has been covering the wine industry as an editor and reporter for more than 30 years. In 2006 he became editor of Wines & Vines, the media company for North American winemakers and grape growers. He directs the editorial content of Wines & Vines in the monthly print magazine, digital and social media. Gordon is also a contributing editor for Wine Enthusiast magazine and past director of the annual Symposium for Professional Wine Writers at Meadowood Napa Valley. He was editor in chief for two books by publisher Dorling Kindersley of London: Opus Vino, and 1000 Great Everyday Wines. Gordon was managing editor of Wine Spectator for 12 years, and editor in chief of Wine Country Living magazine for four, during which time he helped create Wine Country Living TV for NBC station KNTV in San Jose. He lives in Napa, California. Email:

Want breaking news in the wine world?

Sign up for the Beverage Industry Enthusiast newsletter for a weekly rundown on the latest
Sign up for the
Beverage Industry Enthusiast
newsletter for a weekly
rundawn on the latest
Please enter a valid email address

We will never share your email address privacy policy