The Naples Winter Wine Festival, in only its fourth year, has raised the bar for benefit wine auctions in the United States after its live auction brought in $6.67 million on Feb. 7 at the Ritz-Carlton, Naples Golf Resort, Fla. The charity wine auction market has stumbled in the wake of 9/11, and this represents the highest live-auction take since the Napa Valley Wine Auction raised $7.6 million in June 2001.
"We really didn't expect this," said Denise Cobb, chairwoman of the festival's public relations committee. "Looking back, I guess we should have. Most of us were pretty shocked, pretty amazed."
The auction has made dramatic strides each year. In 2001, it raised $2.7 million; in 2002, $3.3 million; in 2003, $5.1 million.
This year's top lot sold for $350,000. It consisted of seven 6-liter bottles: Château Haut-Brion 2000, La Mission Haut-Brion 2000, La Tour Haut-Brion 2000, Bahans Haut-Brion 2000, La Chapelle de La Mission Haut-Brion 2000, Laville Haut-Brion 2000, Haut-Brion Blanc 2000. It also included a visit of the Haut-Brion estates as well as a tasting and lunch with the winemaker. Auction chair Shirlene Elkins, her husband, Bob, and an anonymous trustee were the winning bidders. That one lot alone would have placed the Naples festival in last year's top 15 highest-grossing charity wine auctions.
Other top lots included a 3-liter bottle of Colgin Cabernet Sauvignon Herb Lamb Vineyard 1994 with a William Yeoward engraved crystal double-magnum decanter and 12 glasses; a 3-liter bottle of Screaming Eagle Cabernet Sauvignon 1999 in a special-edition wooden box; and the 6 Series 2004 BMW 645 Ci Coupe, which will be released later this month. All three lots sold for $200,000 each.
In total, the 500 guests bid on 71 lots, resulting in an unprecedented average of $93,944 raised per lot.
It was clear to Cobb after only a few lots that the auction would be enormously successful. The bidding was aggressive and bold. She attributes the generosity, in part, to the fact that for the first time, guests were taken to visit the beneficiaries' sites. Beneficiaries include the Boys & Girls Club of Collier County and Youth Haven, a shelter for abused and neglected children.
The organizers of the Napa Valley fund-raiser, which has long been the nation's top charity wine auction, must be feeling the pressure. But Cobb denies there is any competition. She said, "The way we look at it is we'll be the top auction in the world until June" -- when the next Napa Valley Wine Auction will occur.
Read more about the charity wine auction market: