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.