Charity wine auctions are beginning to seriously feel the aftershocks of the recession. Two years ago, a single lot at the Naples Winter Wine Festival brought in $2 million. This past weekend, the entire 65 lots in the live auction tallied $5.06 million. That's a 64 percent decrease from last year's total of $14 million. But auction organizers said that considering the state of the economy, they still had plenty of reasons to be happy—5,060,000 reasons, to be exact.
The money raised during the auction goes to the Naples Children & Education Foundation, which supports local children's charities. The auction has raised over $74 million for the charities in the nine years since its inception.
Despite the grim economic climate, the mood under the tent at the Naples Ritz Carlton Golf Resort was celebratory. Attendees mingled with celebrities before the auction, including Cal Ripken Jr., Judge Judy Sheindlin and Emeril Lagasse.
In an annual tradition, children from a local YMCA program funded by grants from the foundation kicked off the action with a song. This year's selection was "God Bless America." The kids then weaved through the colorfully dressed crowd waving American flags.
The bidding saw some incredible wines. Five magnums of wines from Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, donated by the estate's co-director, Aubert de Villaine, brought in $150,000—the event's top wine lot. The winner took home a Montrachet 2000, Romanée-Conti 1971 and La Tâche 1999, 2000 and 2001. A Caribbean yacht trip brought in the overall highest bid at $350,000, while a stay at Blackberry Farm, a Tennessee resort and home of a Wine Spectator Grand Award-winning restaurant, plus a private concert by country artist Lee Ann Womack notched $240,000.
As the auction came to a close, balloons dropped and attendees danced to E.L.O.'s "Hold on Tight to Your Dreams." "I think they were excited to make a difference," said auction organizer Dawn Montecalvo. "Anything we raised was worthy of a celebration."
Coming early in the year, the Naples auction has set the pace for other charity auctions in the past. This year's results suggest a potentially tough season in 2009. But they also serve as a reminder that these auctions are not necessarily about upping the ante. Their most important purpose is supporting communities in need. With so many communities currently in need, any help is a net positive.
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