This year marked a return to form for the Naples Winter Wine Festival auction, the top-earning charity wine auction in the country since 2004. After diminished success last year that reflected the dire economic circumstances of early 2009, the Naples, Fla.-based auction experienced a turnaround, with totals from Saturday’s event cresting over $8 million, a 60 percent increase over last year’s $5.06 million figure. While it is too soon to know if the rebound at Naples is a bellwether of recovery for charity wine auctions in 2010, this is now already a celebratory year for the auction beneficiary, the Naples Children and Education Foundation, and for the 100,000 at-risk children aided by its many health programs.
The success at Naples this year, though still well shy of the blockbuster $15.67 million haul in 2007, is subject to multiple interpretations. But Francis Rooney, festival chairman and former U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See, thinks that the resilience of compassion, even in lean times, accounts for much of it. "People feel really good about the generosity that was expressed, that we haven’t let the recession stop us from helping children that need our help. The kids need all the money we can raise, and they need it now more than they ever would have." The young beneficiaries of the festival largesse have received approximately $82.5 million over the last 10 years.
One breakout success this year, the lead earner among the 61 lots, was a fund-a-need effort that netted $652,850 for the Children's Behavioral Health Collaboration, a mental health initiative. This new addition to the auction was the brainchild of Rooney's wife, Kathleen, and it democratized auction participation among the 500 attendees: "It was a way for everybody under the tent to participate at a level that reflected their means and ability, so it enriched the community of benefactors by having the ability to give one or five or 10,000 dollars."
Other standout lots included a week-long Mediterranean cruise on the Feadship Yacht Dream for six couples that sold for $440,000 and private rendezvous with supermodel Heidi Klum, actor Robert Redford and LPGA legend/vintner Annika Sorenstam that went for $150,000, $130,000, and $30,000, respectively. But all auction-goers got a few celebrity sightings: actor and concocter of the Pursued by Bear Washington blend Kyle MacLachlan and upholder of syndicated justice Judge Judy Sheindlin were both in the bidding fray.
And of course, the wines: A 2003 Château Lynch-Bages double magnum, paired with two nights in Pauillac for two couples, fetched $170,000. A 2005 to 2003 vertical of Colgin Cellars Tychson Hill Cabernet Sauvignon served with a dinner by Thomas Keller bagged an additional $160,000. Three large-format Domaine Serene Monogram Pinot Noirs, bundled with a personal meal prepared by Emeril Lagasse, reeled in $160,000. And four salmanazars of Haut-Brion and La Mission Haut-Brion notched $150,000; Haut-Brion’s Prince Robert of Luxembourg was there to send them on their way.
In 2010, economic conditions still look cloudy. But if Naples is any indication, we may yet see charity wine auctions ebb back up toward their high-water marks. Bidders understand how hard the recession can be on the organizations that depend on our goodwill.
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