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July 3, 2017

BEYOND THE VINES

“The wines of California are true reflections of the image of California as a whole: laid-back, hedonistic, sun-worshipping, emblems of unrestrained New Age freedoms rather than Old World restrictions, and bristling with international influences while mostly content to remain within their own borders.”
(From The Finest Wines of California by Stephen Brook)

The Philippines has been the largest market for U.S. wines in Southeast Asia since 2009, according to the USDA Foreign Agricultural Service GAIN (Global Agricultural Information Network) Report U.S. Wine Exports Soar in Booming Philippine Market, published in 2013.

While there has been increased representation of American wines from areas like the Pacific Northwest, it is the range and variety of California wines that have captured the drinking preference of the Filipinos. This is no doubt that the allure of this land blessed by nature and its colorful wine culture has created a strong following that promises to grow even stronger in the coming years.

Part of my work has given me the opportunity to meet some of the people behind these bottles, winemakers and movers who have extracted the best from their vineyards and presented a wonderful portfolio of wines that reflect the terroir, with different expressions of the grapes as well as their vision, unveiled through every sip.

 

A LEGACY OF SUSTAINABILITY
I still recall a wonderful wine dinner I had at Cirkulo in 2014, when the President and CEO of St. Francis Winery and Vineyards in Sonoma dropped by for a visit. Christopher Silva proudly proclaimed himself as a fifth generation native of Sonoma country, descended from dairy farmers.

“Farming in Sonoma defines our history, our culture, and certainly our values. We try to capture farming in everything we do at St. Francis,” Silva briefly explained.

It was a timely visit, since we had just wrapped up our issue on green and sustainable industry practices for F&B World, which included a feature on St. Francis wines and their move towards green practices.

F&B World, December 2013-January 2014 issue, published by HIP

Silva was the driving force behind this move, as they celebrated their tenth year using the 457-kilowatt Solar Energy System in the summer of 2014. This system powered the roof of their cellar and barrel room, and St. Francis was the first winery in Sonoma Country to put in a solar energy system.

“In the summer, we get over 40 percent of electric savings from the sun,” Silva recalled. “It became something of a model not only in California, but also in the U.S.” He was ecstatic over the recognitions they had received, such as the 2013 Certified Sustainable award by the California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance, where “we were recognized as certified sustainable for our green practices and we were told that we were doing more good than harm for the environment.”

Apart from the solar energy system, St. Francis had “taken aggressive steps in water and creek conservation, recycling, eco-friendly packaging, and created an on-site sustainable vegetable garden to support its culinary programs.” The restaurant was also named Best in America for 2013 and 2015, in recognition for its farm to table and wine and food pairings offered to Winery visitors every day.

Silva was equally pleased with their wine portfolio that had gained numerous accolades over the years.

“The previous winemaker was responsible for Zinfandel getting the highest scores in the last 13 years. The Old Vine Zinfandel has to be my favorite wine,” he declared. The Old Vine Zinfandel is a blend from 22 dry-farmed vineyards, with vines from 60 to 100 years old.

The Chardonnay is able to retain its flavors and aromas with a change in their harvesting and pressing techniques. “Chardonnay is especially sensitive to light. By bringing it in at 3 am and pressing it at a cooler temperature in the morning, we are able to able to hold on to its flavors, aromas, and acid levels.”

Their Merlots are a hundred percent estate-grown while the Cabernet Sauvignon comes from the mountain and hillside vineyards in Sonoma. “We are careful since we don’t want to overpower the wine (with oak). We want to make it luscious and fruit-driven.”

“Sonoma does well for Chardonnay, Merlot, and Zinfandel since we are close enough to the ocean, where we have cool mornings and warm afternoons,” Silva elaborated.

 

A WINE LEGACY LIVES ON
I found out from my friend, Kathy Santos Yao of Happy Living Fine Wine, that Christopher Silva passed away this June after being diagnosed with brain cancer last April. I had only met him once, but the passion with which he lived his life and his firm belief in establishing a better world for future generations remains etched in my mind.

“The Sonoma Country that I grew up in is the same one I want my children to grow up in,” Silva mentioned. He lived his life by “being a best friend to mother nature and being a good neighbor to the land and to the people we work with.”

I am certain that his legacy will live on through the lives he has touched and the beliefs he has passed on. I raise a glass of St. Francis Old Vine Zinfandel to Christopher Silva and his unwavering spirit.

“Our time at St. Francis will not be measured in years. It will be measured by the contributions each one of us makes—as individuals—to constantly improving the quality of our grapes and our wines. ‘Good enough’ is contrary to our mission.”

Christopher Silva, St. Francis Winery CEO and President
1964-2017

 

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