When Chris Silva talks about his childhood in Sonoma County, it’s not long before his Italian roots surface.

“Most Sundays was either polenta or risotto, except when my grandparents would take us out to dinner along Highway 12,” he said.

Silva is the CEO of Santa Rosa’s St. Francis Winery & Vineyard, at Pythian Road and Highway 12; he hasn’t strayed far from what he refers to as “the main drag” of his youth.

“I remember driving up and down Highway 12 as a teenager and being awestruck by the fact that we had vineyards and green hills along the road instead of warehouses and buildings,” Silva said.

“This was country, and the success of the grape and wine industry gave us a tremendous quality of life growing up here.”

Now 52, Silva continues to savor the drive.

“The 17-mile stretch from Sonoma to Santa Rosa is still as spectacular as any drive I could ever imagine,” Silva said.

“The farms and vineyards and those green, valley hills that Jack London wrote about are still very much there ... but as an area evolves, grows and changes, let’s be very careful not to forget who we are and what brought us here. We are farmers who make wine.”

Silva said he believes the local government is doing a good job of protecting the environment and integrity of life here.

“I think there are a number of safeguards in place that will keep things from getting out of control,” he said.

“Growth will continue to be controlled not only by rules and ordinances, but also by a sense of responsibility among wineries and businesses in the area.

“We share something incredible here, like nowhere else, and no one wants to lose this.”

While Silva acknowledges many are concerned about the impact of growth and tourism, he said this is also an exciting time for Sonoma Valley.

“The world is discovering who we are and what we’re capable of, and they want to come experience it,” Silva said. “Our challenge is to always stay true to who we are.”