— An Integral Part of Sonoma County Wine.
The local community has united to pay tribute to Christopher Silva, the driving force behind St Francis Winery, whose passion, heart-warming character and philanthropic attitude left quite a mark on those who had the pleasure to meet him.
In April, Chris announced to the public that he’d been diagnosed with an aggressive gliobastoma cancer. Both he and his family made the decision to confront the brain tumor aggressively with radiation and chemotherapy treatments at UCSF Medical Center. Like most things in Chris’ life, he faced this head on, hoping for a powerful impact to beat the tumor.
Less than 2 months later, the fifth-generation Sonoma County resident and father to two wonderful children, lost his battle -June 20, 2017. Christopher Silva passed away peacefully surrounded by family at his bedside.
Born on July 8, 1964, Silva originally studied to become a lawyer, and did. After attending college at Loyola and establishing a successful law career in Southern California, Silva heard the call from his home county, and quickly found in wine… both a professional calling and a passionate love affair.
Silva returned to Sonoma County to take over running things from Joe Martin, founder at St Francis Winery and one of Chris’ closest friends over the years. Joe had known Chris since Silva had bagged his groceries as a teenager and made an impression with his strong work ethics even at that young age.
Martin recognized Chris’ extraordinary energy, his enthusiasm and ability to connect with people. Chris was hired at St. Francis Winery in 1998 and became a permanent fixture.
I met Chris briefly in 2012 at a winery event and in 2013 while visiting the winery for a harvest season press tour, I had the pleasure to spend the day with him leading the group and got to know him much better. A friendship was formed immediately.
He spent the day with our group and took time out to speak with each one of us, getting to know us personally, not just professionally. I had met many wine owners and CEO’s by then, but Chris stood apart from the rest, he was a class act and really cared about people. Genuine is the word.
Chris was also one of my first supporters when I entered the wine industry full time in 2013. I would be invited out to the winery for food and wine pairings with each new menu, he would personally send me invites to the coolest dinners with the Chef, wine blending events and always sent me wine over the holidays with a handwritten note from himself. Talk about class.
Hospitality is key to success in the wine industry and Chris fit in perfectly with his naturally hospitable personality.
Chris and I lived within a half mile of each other and would often run into each other about town or at the grocery store. Each time, he would stop what he was doing, chat and if possible, introduce me to someone else he knew right on the spot. He loved to connect people. Everyone seemed to know Chris.
He would not just introduce you to others but he would spend a moment speaking about the person he was introducing and extolling their many virtues. He had a way of building a person’s self confidence in a very genuine way.
I mentioned to him one time that I needed an office space… “My friend Dan at Union Hotel has a great spot up top. My daughter works there, let me introduce you and find you a spot”. Then another time, I mentioned that my friend needed a location for a senior care meeting… “My friend at the Wild Oak Saddle Club can help you, let me email her and connect you”.
If I had to guess, I would say one of Chris’ favorite things would be HELPING PEOPLE.
I had the honor to go to dinner with Chris a few times one-on-one and wish we had had more time to pursue such endeavors, he was a wonderful man who I felt a real connection to. If we weren’t both soo busy damnit. We found each other to have a passion for Sonoma County, the local wine industry as well as an obsession over being a fantastic parent , the best parent we could possibly be. No matter what was required of us.
Chris always put his kids and their needs first, often with own personal sacrifice. Family dinners at the table with the kids was important to him. Eating healthy and living healthy were a part of family life too. Born to Swiss-Italian dairy farmers who came to Petaluma in the late 1800s, his bonds were strong. Family was first with the Silvas.
We would often chat about our kids and he always remembered my kids ages. When my daughter Cassidy had an eighth grade project to learn about something scientific at a local business, Chris was the first call I made.
And of course, not only did he arrange a visit for her, he made sure to have the enologist on hand for a grand tour of the St Francis laboratory, the barrel room, etc. He spent two hours making sure my daughter had all the photos and info she needed. Chris called to make sure that things went smoothly afterwards and said he was excited to see the final report.
Attention to detail was a must with him as was good follow up.
I believe that if Chris could oversee his own memorial service… he would be more than happy to… greeting guests, shaking hands, holding babies, helping people to their seats and making everyone smile and feel special. He loved to work a crowd.
When I asked Chris to be on our Board for a new non-profit I was building to benefit Sonoma public school libraries, he of course said he would help. He also admitted that he was a little over-committed already being such a staple with leadership positions on the boards of Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital and the Santa Rosa Junior College wine studies program.
He thanked me again for always supporting his SRJC Classic fundraiser by selling tickets and said although he may be busy, he would do what he can and participate on the Sonoma Readers Are Leaders board and we had St Francis behind us too. We will all greatly miss him and his spirit. He worked hard for others and was philanthropic to his core.
When I was recently was asked to be photographed for the newspaper, Chris was again the first call I made. He followed up by sending thanks and praises when the article came out and I made sure to strategically place myself so the words “St Francis Winery” appeared in the background.
I have been a huge supporter of St Francis and it is all due to this man. No offense to Chris Louton or Katie Madigan, your wine is fantastic… but it was Chris himself that made the winery so special for me and the close connection combined with his passion for the land that kept me focused on my support of St Francis. When I would attend events and talk to the attendees, I often asked what brought them there. Most of the time, an overwhelming 80% I would guess, they answered “we are here because of Chris”. So true.
Chris has asked to and hosted our Wednesday #SonomaChat program twice and was scheduled to have St Francis host again in August. I will most likely have a moment of silence on that day and be too sad to hold a chat. I am having a hard time writing this as it is. He always retweeted my articles, quotes and coverage. I will miss seeing his face in my social media feed.
Chris had the kind of personality that drew people in. He was charismatic. His constant travelling put Chris in touch with leading people from the wine industry. He was always remembered fondly by those he met and spoke to.
Both generous and lovable, he was a much admired figure. Chris had a strong spiritual character, loved his faith, he was a hard working man and a hard driven inspiration to those whose life is built around wine. The wine world deeply mourns the loss of a local business icon, a dedicated philanthropist and a determined ambassador for his county, his profession, his family and his own personal beliefs.
From St Francis Winery: “St. Francis Winery was as much of a part of Chris as Chris was a part of St. Francis Winery. Chris had the ability to make connections everywhere he went with his boundless energy and enthusiasm. He could make the 40th wine store owner he visited feel like they were the only reason he came on the trip. Chris had lightning quick humor and an incredible memory. He listened. He focused on everyone he met and he made thousands of connections. He was also utterly relentless, whether that was getting our wines into the wine cellar at the White House or getting a friend a tour of the Vatican.
Chris was truly a master communicator in every sense of the word; his vocabulary, his style, his animated emails, and don’t even think of writing to him without double checking your grammar and punctuation! He loved articulate and clever words, both written and spoken. Not just in English either! He was fluent in Spanish and passable in Italian and French. He learned phrases in German and Mandarin to connect with distributors overseas. He joked that nobody had any excuse to misunderstand him, saying, “Some say I have a habit of repeating myself,” with a big grin.
We long to hear him repeat himself now!”
Wednesday – June 28th from 6-7pmPST on Twitter and Facebook. There will be a ‘virtual’ online memorial service for Chris Silva for those that are unable to attend the local service. Chris had friends and admirers across the globe and this will give everyone a chance to pay their respects. Use the hashtag #TOASTSILVA on facebook and twitter on the 28th of June to post a thought about Chris’ life.
A funeral Mass is scheduled for 10 a.m. June 30, 2017, this Friday at St. Rose Catholic Church in Santa Rosa. A location for the reception to follow has not yet been determined.