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A subset of all the people who recall the former Petrini’s Market near Santa Rosa’s Flamingo Hotel in the early 1980s is those who retain a mental image of the solicitous, clearly driven kid who looked to be mankind’s youngest grocery clerk.

That was Christopher Silva. Once you know how he got the job as a union checker at not yet 16, it’s hardly surprising that only a couple of decades later he gave up the life of a buttoned-up trial lawyer to grasp the challenge of running a pre-eminent Sonoma Valley winery.

Born in Petaluma into a deep-rooted Swiss-Italian dairy family, Silva was 15 and bike-delivering The Press Democrat in Santa Rosa’s Town & Country neighborhood when he set his sights on becoming a grocery bagger at the small-chain gourmet supermarket on Fourth Street.

One day in 1979 he approached manager Charlie Dooyes and asked to be hired. Silva can recall for you what time it was, what Dooyes wore and probably the ambient temperature and lunar phase.

Dooyes told him, “You’re too young.” So Silva did what any 15-year-old would do.

“I handed him a business card and I said, ‘Please call me if you have a job.’”

Silva recalls that the Petrini’s manager phoned him the next day to say, “I can’t believe a kid has business cards. Can you start on Saturday?”

Silva loved working at Petrini’s.

“One of my regular customers was Harry Morgan,” he said last week after a seemingly redundant second afternoon coffee at his office at outer Kenwood’s St. Francis Winery & Vineyards. Late Santa Rosa resident Morgan was the actor beloved for his TV roles as police officer Bill Gannon on “Dragnet” and as MASH’s Col. Sherman T. Potter.

Silva relished meeting and carting the groceries also of entrepreneur Henry Trione, journalist-historian Gaye LeBaron, former madame Sally Stanford, all sorts of compelling people. He remembers downtown character Pepper grabbing the checkstand microphone and yodeling over the store speakers.

Silva had been a bag boy only about six months and was still 15 when he asked to be promoted to checker. Of course Dooyes gave him the boost.

Silva remembers once coming to the manager with a mild complaint. The checkstands were to be wiped down regularly with ammonia, and he told Dooyes that disinfecting with the nasty stuff made the clerks’ eyes water.

Dooyes asked him, “Does it make your eyes water every time you use it?” Silva answered, “No.” The manager concluded the conversation with, “Then you’re not using enough.”

The young checker came to appreciate his boss’ commitment to cleanliness. A constant of Silva’s life has been his propensity to observe and take to heart the counsel and wisdom of those whose work ethics he admires.

That certainly goes for his late grandfather, Petaluma dairyman William Cassina. “He always said, ‘Every job is important. Respect everyone who works,’” Silva said.

All the time he worked at Petrini’s, Silva anticipated the occasional store visits by founder Frank Petrini, the demanding, almost regal immigrant who’d purportedly come to San Francisco with $5 in his pocket and whose enhancements to the grocery business included the lapel carnations that checkers wore on Saturdays.

“When Mr. Petrini was there, it was like the pope was there,” Silva said.

Another visionary businessman Silva got to know through conversations at the checkstand was Joe Martin, who let the teen know he valued people who worked hard.

Martin had done well in furniture retailing but, long intrigued by wine, sold his company in 1971 to buy 100 acres of farmland near Kenwood. Martin planted it in merlot and chardonnay. After watching for a while as others made his fruit into fine wine, he and partner Lloyd Canton in 1979 opened a winery and named it after St. Francis of Assisi, champion of animals and the environment.

Silva and Martin became friends. “In a lot of ways, he really was my best friend,” Silva said.

They also became family: Silva was married for seven years to one of Martin’s granddaughters, Linda Armstrong.

Inspired by his grandfather the dairyman, Joe Martin, Frank Petrini and others to work hard and to strive, Silva set out after graduation from Cardinal Newman High School to become an attorney. He was accepted into Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles.

Big surprise, Silva became the school’s youngest student body president ever. He earned his undergraduate and law degrees, then launched his career at a law firm in Beverly Hills.

Increasingly convinced that Sonoma County is one of the best places on Earth, Silva came home in 1992 and joined the Santa Rosa law firm headed by Clay Clement. The newcomer handled mostly real estate and business cases, and on occasion represented a winery.

Silva the lawyer liked wine. A budding passion to learn more about its history, culture, business and appreciation led him to enroll in night classes at Santa Rosa Junior College with the likes of the wine-wise Bill Traverso, Rich Thomas, Graham Parnell and Michael Topolos.

In 1998, Silva had moved on to the former Lanahan & Reilley law firm. His old friend Joe Martin of St. Francis Winery & Vineyards came to him with a proposition:

Ditch the suit and come help out with marketing and management at the winery.

Silva made the move. And imagine this: He worked hard and immersed himself in all aspects of the operation there at St. Francis.

“I’ve been on all the rungs of the ladder,” he said. “Each rung is important to the organization.”

He was 38 when Martin made him the winery’s president and CEO in 2003. Martin had done much to distinguish St. Francis and to give back to Sonoma County when he died in February 2015 at the age of 80.

Silva honors Martin by leading employees on a workday out in the community on the founder’s birthday and by reaching steadily higher. He said 2015 was in myriad respects the winery’s best year yet.

In his spare time, Silva, the long-divorced father of 18-year-old Christopher Joseph and Sydney, 16, works out hard at the gym and chairs the Wine Studies Advisory Board at Santa Rosa Junior College. One of his missions at the JC is to make its two-year-old Wine Classic the county’s premier wine-tasting benefit gala.

At 51, the former precocious Petrini’s bag boy says, “I was never the smartest guy in the room, but I was usually the hardest working.

“I hope that’s still true.”

Seems there’s a better than fair chance it is.

Chris Smith is at 521-5211 and chris.smith@press democrat.com.