We lost Chris Silva, president and CEO of St. Francis Winery this week. He was a brilliant and dynamic leader, both in the industry and in social and educational endeavors.
One week in late April, he sent an email and posted on Facebook that he suddenly found himself with slurred speech, which led him to doctors who said the cause was a brain tumor. He seemed quite brave and optimistic, with an undertone that he wasn’t kidding himself. We spoke often in the last year and enjoyed a mutual admiration society.
Silva was a fifth-generation native of a Petaluma dairy family, grounded in agriculture, who talked his way into being a too-young grocery bagger at Petrini’s Market in Santa Rosa.
But he went elsewhere and graduated from Loyola Law School in Los Angeles and left law practice to become president and CEO with St. Francis Winery in 2003 at age 38.
Under Silva’s leadership, St. Francis was named the “#1 Restaurant in America” by Open Table users in 2013 and 2015, quite the achievement for a winery that is not a restaurant but serves food and wine pairings.
According to the winery’s website, stfranciswinery.com, Silva also led the winery to become recognized as “Certified Sustainable” by the California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance.
Always active in community and education, Silva served on the board of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Sonoma County, on an advisory board of the University of Nevada at Las Vegas Hotel Administration College, named UNLV’s Food & Beverage Industry Executive of the Year, and 2011 Healthy Business Leader by the Northern California Center for Well-Being.
He served as chairman of the board of trustees of Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital and chairman of the Santa Rosa Junior College Wine Studies Advisory Board.
Silva also started the SRJC Wine Classic, which honored both Pasta King Art Ibleto and Eleanor Cheatham, founder of the fabulous Worth Our Weight culinary training program.
Silva was only 52 and leaves two children, as well as many admirers.