February is traditionally associated with heart month, but we can have a heart at any time, particularly when it comes to enjoying such an easy-to-drink wine that gives back!
It was a pleasure recently to meet a man who has done more for hearts than possibly any other winemaker. Together with his son Colby, they’ve raised over $300,000 for local heart health foundations; in Canada that’s the “Heart Awareness Foundation”.
Daryl Groom was 5 years old when his mum died in a car accident. He grew up with his three brothers who were all successful in their own ways; his older brother became a politician, brother #2 became a movie producer, and brother #3 an archaeologist before going into marketing.
Everyone around hoped that Groom would turn out to be a lawyer, but he read a career magazine which talked about winemaking and was so was captivated by idea in 1976 that he chose to attend Australia’s first agricultural college, Roseworthy, 50 K north of Adelaide. He had no idea about wine, unlike his classmates, and was the only kid who didn’t come from a winemaking family.
After graduating, a series of coincidences with winemakers vacating their positions, meant Groom rose quickly through the ranks, becoming Head Winemaker of Penfolds’ white wines. As thanks, Max Schubert, one of the most important Australian winemaking figures of the 20th century and creator of Penfolds Grange, gave him a bottle of the first 1st vintage from 1951, which Groom still hasn’t opened.
In 1989, Penfolds bought Geyser Peak in California, and offered Groom a job for two years. His wife was seven months pregnant, and it was the harvest from hell. His advice? Never have a child at harvest time! He turned the wine around, but two years later the vineyard had financial difficulties and so Groom returned to Australia – despite being named winemaker of the year by two important American critics.
He signed a three year contract with Jim Beam, but had become hands-off and was always traveling or in meetings. At this point, Groom’s son Colby, was eight years old and was told he had to have open heart surgery.
Congenital heart disease is the number one killer of children in America. At 8 ½ years, Colby had to have open heart surgery in the following two months, or die. There was a 90% chance of success of repairing his heart valve and a 5% chance he wouldn’t survive. The operation was not a success; they couldn’t repair his heart valve; it was still leaking, and so Groom had to break the news for a second time that Colby would have to have a new heart valve fitted. This would entail a year of no school and no sport. Colby was behind in everything, and was despondent, as he couldn’t do anything his contemporaries could do, leaving him with no friends.
Click here to read how the Groom family managed to turn the situation around and about Colby’s Red wine!