Healdsburg 15-year-old Colby Groom sometimes starts his talks to rapt audiences of 200, 600 or 1,000 people by declaring he's happy to be there.
Then he says he means not just there in Chicago or Orlando or San Diego or Dallas, but there above ground, there among the living.
Being born with a defective heart valve and enduring two open-heart surgeries and long bouts of debilitation and playground treatment as the sick kid once had Colby sullenly lamenting his lot. Not any more.
"I love my life," exclaimed the bright and slightly goofy kid. "And I love it being exactly what it is right now."
Life right now for the Cardinal Newman High sophomore is, for one thing, eating. Food is joy for this kid, and he packs it away.
"How many waffles did you eat today?" his mother, Lisa, asked during a family conversation at their home off Westside Road. Colby grinned. "Seven," he said.
Right now, life for Colby also is raising money — astonishing amounts of money — in his personal quest to assure that one day no children will have to suffer the way he did. He's serious about helping to discover and prevent the causes of hereditary heart defects.
Recently he and his dad, celebrated Australian-born winemaker Daryl Groom, donated $20,000 to boost the research by Dr. Paul Grossfeld of the University of California at San Diego. Grossfeld and a research team have identified a new gene linked to congenital heart maladies.
"I really love that cause," Colby said, because it holds the promise of preventing such defects and thereby sparing kids of going through what he's gone through.
The $20,000 donation was made possible by the sales of a wine that Daryl Groom created in 2010 at his son's suggestion.
"Originally we planned on making two barrels," Colby recalled. His idea, at age 12, was to use his dad's winemaking mastery and connections to sell the wine, then donate the profits to the American Heart Association.
There was born, Colby Red. It's a blend of cabernet sauvignon, zinfandel, shiraz, merlot and petite sirah.
Colby likes to say that from its humble, two-barrel beginning, Colby Red "kind of spiraled out of control."
Recently, the sales proceeds that come to the Grooms for donation to heart-defect research and services for patients topped $350,000. That money came in the form of royalties paid to them by the international Treasury Wine Estates, which makes and distributes Colby Red.
The wine is made at Asti Winery and sold across the country at Walgreens, Safeway, BevMo and Mollie Stone's Markets, and it is served at Fleming's steakhouses, California Pizza Kitchen, Kona Grill and The Capital Grille.
Sales were robust even before Kathie Lee Gifford and Hoda Kotb tasted and talked about Colby's wine and mission on "The Today Show" in March of 2012 and Gifford remarked, "By the way, that Colby Red, it's one of the best red wines I've ever tasted."
The wine is so good and the cause so compelling that when Colby and Daryl went weeks ago to 21 Healdsburg restaurants and asked them to pour Colby Red to mark the seasonal return of the Tuesday evening concerts on the town plaza, all 21 signed on. Colby Red has become a premiere sponsor of the concerts.