My goal here is to share with other wine enthusiasts my discoveries as I judge at wine competitions and visit wine regions, with occasional commentary about issues touching the wine scene, especially in California.
When we arrived at South Coast Winery Resort & Spa in Temecula Valley the other day - the site of the 30th annual Riverside International Wine Competition - the first familiar face we encountered was that of fellow judge Daryl Groom.
That face, which almost always is smiling, also was sweating. He was just ending a three-mile jog. It was late in the afternoon. The sun was beating down. The temperature had topped 90 degrees. He could have been lounging by the pool. But if anyone knows the value of keeping a heart pumping vigorously, it's Daryl Groom, a longtime Australian and Californian winemaker.
Groom has a son, Colby, who was born with a hole in his heart. Early on, that hole seemed to have healed itself. Subsequently, however, doctors discovered that he had a defective valve, and when he was 8 he underwent his first open-heart surgery. When that patch didn't hold, he went back under the scalpel 10 months later to get a mechanical heart valve.
As he recuperated, he took it upon himself to join fund-raising drives in hopes of advancing heart research so other youths wouldn't have to face what he'd endured. He participated in heart walks. At one event, he raised $1,000 by charging people to see his chest scar.
About a year ago, he suggested to his father that the two of them make a couple of barrels of wine to sell at auction, with the funds to go to the American Heart Association, St. Jude's Childrens Hospital and other groups helping youngsters with heart ailments. He anticipated generating about $500.
As word of his proposal began to circulate among his father's acquaintances and friends, the scope of the project grew. Treasury Wine Estates, an international wine company whose 54 brands include Castello di Gabbiano, Stags' Leap Winery and Penfolds, a celebrated Australian winery where Groom once was in charge of its red-wine program, jumped aboard. So did the drugstore chain Walgreens.
The first vintage of "Colby Red" began to roll into Walgreens stores in February. Those two barrels that Colby Groom first envisioned making with his father had grown into 25,000 cases. So far, sales of the wine have raised $115,000 for heart research. The Grooms are hoping to hit $250,000 by the end of the year.
"Colby Red," a 2009 blend of California cabernet sauvignon, zinfandel, syrah, merlot and petite sirah, delivers more fruit, harmony and complexity than its $10 price tag suggests. This isn't a wine getting by on its feel-good story and noble goal. It's a bright and supple wine whose sunny and forward red-fruit flavor is accented with a seam of herbalness and a couple of dashes of spice.
The day before running into Groom in Temecula Valley, I coincidentally picked up and tasted a bottle of "Colby Red." Be forewarned that not all Walgreens stock this or any other wine. I visted three of the drugstores before finally finding the wine at the Walgreens branch at Arden Way and Eastern Avenue.
Today, Colby Rex Groom is a vigorous 13-year-old who often accompanies his father and mother as they travel about the country to hand out checks for this and that heart-related charity. They make a point of dispensing funds to communities where the wine sells briskly. At "heart balls" he's become an effective pitchman in urging attendees to donate generously, helping raise $430,000 in Dallas, $285,000 in Chicago, where he also was invited to throw out the first pitch at Wrigley Field. He's developed into a wicked southpaw.