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Wine With a Heart

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People choose a wine from a retail shelf for any number of reasons. They remember it fondly from a prior experience. Or perhaps it was a recommendation. Sometimes even the "critter" on the label makes a difference when the moment of truth arrives.

I've got a better idea. How about reaching for the one wine that is good for your heart, for everyone's heart.

That would be Colby Red, a delicious yet inexpensive California red wine crafted by the famed winemaker, Daryl Groom, with help from his 15-year-old son, Colby.

Colby was the inspiration for the wine — and, indeed, the entire project was his idea, after he survived a second open-heart surgery prior to his 13th birthday. The profits from Colby Red are donated to heart research, with more than $100,000 distributed so far, most of that going to the American Heart Association.

The second vintage of Colby Red is now in the market, and at 40,000 cases or so, the 2010 Colby is nearly double the production of the first vintage. Both vintages, however, have gone far beyond what either Groom envisioned at the outset.

"We made two barrels (about 50 cases) of wine," said Daryl. "We hoped to sell it at auction. But word got around what Colby and I were up to, and the idea just took off."

Enter the national drugstore chain Walgreen's, which offered to distribute the wine through its stores, and Treasury Wine Estates, the company that produces such brands as Chateau St. Jean, Beringer and Chateau Souverain, which lent its production facilities in northern Sonoma County for the suddenly more ambitious launch of the first Colby Red.

"This is a great wine," Groom says, almost with a tear in his eye. "And Colby's whole idea for it was so that other kids wouldn't have to go through a similar ordeal."

When Daryl Groom talks about great wine, everyone should listen.

The native Australian has been making wine for more than 30 years, and from 1984 until 1989 he was the chief winemaker for Penfolds "Grange," Australia's most important wine. Groom came to the U.S. in 1990 to spearhead the turnaround of Sonoma County's Geyser Peak Winery, and within a couple of years Groom and his team made Geyser Peak one of the most award-winning wineries in the United States.

For the past five years or so, he's been making wine under his own label, Groom, from grapes grown in Australia's Barossa Valley and Adelaide Hills. Colby Red is a blend of cabernet sauvignon, zinfandel, syrah, merlot and petite sirah sourced from the North Coast appellations of Sonoma, Napa and Mendocino counties.

"As Colby Red grows, we may have to go outside that circle looking for fruit, perhaps Paso Robles, so the blend is likely to change somewhat from year to year," said Groom.

"The reception to this wine has been fantastic. It's the second-best selling wine at Walgreen's, and now we're beginning to sell it through other outlets. It's poured by the glass at Capitol Grill (in Washington, D.C.), and major retailers all over the country seem to be ready to jump in."

The Colby Red story is best told by those who lived it. There is a poignant seven-minute video that can be viewed at www.ColbyRed.com, as well as a short clip from the "Today" show. The website also offers Colby Red for sale online, for those who live in states where shipping is legal, and a meter that tracks the ongoing flow of funds that have been donated to heart research.

"I've had a great time traveling around the country handing out checks," Groom said. "What a feeling to be able to give away money, and to something so worthwhile."

Follow Robert on Twitter at @wineguru. To find out more about Robert Whitley and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

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