Raised on a Petaluma dairy farm, Christopher Silva for more than 13 years has led St. Francis Winery & Vineyards in Sonoma Valley as president and CEO to become a destination medium-sized producer.
A fifth-generation Sonoma County native, Silva returned to agriculture after Loyola Law School in Los Angeles and nine years in practice. In 2003 at age 38, he was picked to lead St. Francis.
Achievements since that time include getting the winery’s 400 planted acres in three vineyards certified sustainable by the California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance. A 457-kilowatt solar-energy system was installed in 2004 and provides up to 40 percent of the winery’s electricity demand.
Outside the winery, Silva was elected chairman of the board of trustees of Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital for 2011 and chairman of Santa Rosa Junior College’s wine studies advisory board in 2014.
St. Francis Winery produces 200,000-plus cases annually. Most are distributed in all 50 states plus Canada, the Caribbean, Asia and Europe, with some small-production, mostly single-vineyard wines available only in the tasting room, to club members and to food-pairing guests. The business owns three Sonoma County vineyards that total 400 planted acres, all of which are.
Silva talked with the Business Journal about how the business has grown in production and national acclaim while staying true to the environmental principles of St. Francis, for whom the winery is named.
How has the winery grown over time?
CHRISTOPHER SILVA: Our founder, Joe Martin, and wife Emma purchased the original 100-acre estate in Kenwood in 1971, planted merlot, and sold their St. Francis Vineyard grapes to other wineries until Joe and business partner Lloyd Canton built a winery on the site in 1979. We slowly increased production and let the ability to scale our wine quality dictate slow growth.
We are still very much a medium-sized Sonoma County winery. Right now we’re enjoying the best sales year in our history, so we have much to be thankful for. This has been driven by our entire team’s focus on grape and wine quality and adherence to our winemaking mission statement: “St. Francis Winery will consistently produce luscious, elegant, fruit driven wines that best interpret the richness and distinct varietal characteristics of Sonoma’s unique, diverse terroir.”
We also continue to establish a strong Sonoma brand identity and sense of place on wines that do particularly well for us. An example is my personal favorite, “old vines” zinfandel, made with grapes grown on vines over 100 years old. Another is our cabernet sauvignon with its distinctive, layered style that reflects the well-drained, mountain and hillside volcanic soil upon which it is grown.
This year, our internal tasting group blind-tasted over 800 semifinal blends, in which we evaluated, discussed and fine-tuned every blend until each one met our mission statement. I am a fifth-generation native of Sonoma County. We live in a magical place, and we couldn’t grow or make wines quite like these anywhere else. Every bottle of St. Francis wine is an authentic reflection of that.
What are most significant achievements of your time at the helm of St. Francis Winery?
SILVA: Higher wine quality and a culture of excellence in everything we do. I am proud that every member of our team is performing at the highest levels of their careers. Our two winemakers, Katie Madigan and Chris Louton, received 13 separate Robert Parker scores of 90 points or higher this year, including four separate 95-point scores and four separate 94-point scores on our current vintage wines, the highest scores in St. Francis history.
St. Francis Winery & Vineyards
Category: Winery CEO
100 Pythian Rd., Santa Rosa 95409