Winemaker Daryl Groom and his son, Colby are working toward a big goal this year: To reach $1,000,000 raised for charities supporting heart health. At the end of 2015, they had raised $700,000. Daryl says it will be a stretch to reach the million-dollar mark in 2016, but they are going to go for it.
As you might suspect, Daryl’s fund-raising project involves wine. His illustrious career includes a stint as winemaker of Australia’s iconic Penfold’s Grange from 1984 to 1989. He moved from Australia to Sonoma County in 1989 where he rebuilt Geyser Peak from making lackluster wines to award-winning, age-worthy wines. He’s headed multi-national wine companies and oversees the winemaking of the small, family-owned Groom wines in Australia. The charity fundraising idea, however, was Colby’s, not Daryl’s, and as sometimes happens, it was the result of a near-death experience that began when Colby was eight and a half years old.
Colby had open-heart surgery, not once, but twice in less than a year. The first was to repair a valve, the second to replace the valve with an artificial one. When he was finally able to go back to school, he was not only behind academically, but also physically and socially. His schoolmates--as kids can do--teased and made fun of him. The Grooms began to notice that Colby was dwelling on songs and poems about death. Those surgeries took an emotional as well as a physical toll, and the family was very concerned. “There was a black cloud hanging over him,” said Daryl. “I told him you may have a broken heart, but you have a big heart.” They began to talk about how to turn his experience into something more positive, a way to share his story and perhaps help other children and their families facing similar circumstances.
Colby was about 11 years old when he first stepped upon a stage to tell his story. The audience gave him a standing ovation. It was a good beginning. Soon he was on NBC’s Today show, traveling around the country and making presentations at fundraising events. Last year, the 17-year-old high school senior Cardinal Newman High School was named national spokesperson for the Children’s Heart Foundation.
The day Colby raised the prospect of making wine, Daryl recalls that he was watching a football game and not too interested in conversation. At halftime, Colby asked, “Can we make wine together?” Daryl’s first concern was where to find grapes. Colby had been researching online and told Daryl, “I’ve found grapes.” Daryl replied by asking, “Okay, will it be a $50 wine or a $10 wine?” Colby thought it should be a wine for everybody, which came as a great relief to Daryl. They made their first two barrels of Colby Red Wine in Peter Seghesio’s garage.
It might have continued as a small project, but he mentioned his father/son project to a friend who was the wine buyer for Walgreens. He was so touched by the story that he arranged for Colby to tell his story to Walgreen’s executive team. Walgreens’ support brought immediate nationwide placements for the wine, a feat that would normally require a sizable marketing team and an even more sizable budget. Initially, the wine was only available at Walgreens. “While they would have loved for the brand to be theirs exclusively, they realized that our mission to help others with funds from the sale of the wine could be bigger with more retailers supporting it.” After a year, Walgreens agreed to let the wine be sold though other retail outlets. “They said, ‘Let’s just make this meaningful,’” said Daryl. “They are a great, wonderful, caring organization.” Additional retailers include Total Wines, BevMo, HEB grocery stores and, soon, Bi-Lo grocery stores as well. That initial 2 barrels has become 25, 000 cases annually.
They get the grapes in Lodi and make the wine at the LangeTwins Winery. Lodi is the region that fits their price point. “If we used Sonoma County grapes, we wouldn’t have any money to give away,” exclaimed Daryl. “There are five varieties in the blend. I think of Cabernet Sauvignon as the foundation of a red blend, so, of course, Colby Red Wine usually has 55-60 percent Cabernet Sauvignon. Syrah represents our Australian heritage. It brings silky texture, vibrancy and spice. Zinfandel has traditionally been considered California’s grape, so it represents our home in California. It brings its unique spiciness. Next is Petite Sirah to add color and brighten the wine. We call it “The Doctor,” because it can fix any blend. The final part of the blend is Merlot to add soft suppleness.”
Daryl and I met in the mid-1990s when he came to Dallas to accept the Dallas Morning News Publisher’s Award on behalf of Geyser Peak Winery for their outstanding wines. At some of the judges’ wine dinners at the Dallas wine competition that I organized, I would pour gold-medal winning wines from previous years. The Geyser Peak wines from Daryl’s tenure always showed beautifully. He didn’t begin judging at the competition until 2004, because--as he has reminded me many times--we did not invite winemakers to judge at the competition until that year. Daryl is a great judge, as he brings a breadth of tasting experience and, perhaps equally important, a sense of humor.
While he has had a full career as a winemaker, he has clearly learned how to do what he loves to do and to dispense with the parts of the wine business that don’t bring him as much pleasure. In addition to Colby Red wines, he supervises the production of Groom Wines (which he has owned since the late 1990s with his wife, Lisa, and David and Jeanette Marschall). He is one of the winemakers for Naked Wines. He judges in many competitions including Dallas (now called TEXSOM International Wine Awards), and is head judge for the Press Democrat North Coast Wine Challenge. According to Charlie Palmer, Daryl was the inspiration for the annual Pigs and Pinot event celebrating its tenth anniversary this year.
Many medical research studies have shown that wine in moderation is good for heart health. Colby and Daryl Groom are doing their part for heart health by making red wine for us to enjoy in moderation, and then donating the profits from that wine to support heart research. Maybe you’ll do your part by drinking a few bottles of Colby Red Wine. Not all at once, of course, but please consider helping them reach their million-dollar goal for heart health.