Naples Winter Wine Festival Raises $18.3 Million

Previous record shattered with help of rare wines, celebrity events and collectible cars all on the block
Jan 29, 2007

With its signature formula of celebrity involvement and one-of-a-kind lots, the Naples Winter Wine Festival continued to assert its dominance as the premier U.S. charity wine auction this past Saturday, Jan. 27. Appearances by baseball great Hank Aaron and high-end offerings such as a golf trip to Scotland helped propel the auction to new highs of $15.67 million in live-auction bids--$4.4 million more than in 2006. In total, the four-day festival raised $18.3 million for local children's charities.

"People are already philanthropic, but knowing that you can transform a child's life makes you want to give more," said Dawn Montecalvo, executive director of the Naples Children & Education Foundation, which organizes the auction.

In accordance with this year's theme, "nature's transformations," the auction tent on the lawn of the Naples Ritz-Carlton Golf Resort was bedecked in butterflies, from the silhouette of the auction paddles to volunteers clad in wings.

Four- and five-year-olds from the early-learning program of the local YMCA, a beneficiary of the festival, kicked off the afternoon event with a rendition of "You Are My Sunshine." Auctiongoers responded by raucously upping the bidding for the first lot to $150,000 for a collection of 32 magnums from the participating vintners, including a 2003 Dominio de Pingus Ribera del Duero Flor de Pingus and a 2003 M. Chapoutier Ermitage Le Pavillon. The annually offered package always attracts a large draw, as each bottle is personally selected and signed by the vintner.

 
Naples Children & Education Foundation Trustee Mary Susan Clinton makes a bid.
Celebrity-themed lots also conjured large bids. A combination of Colgin bottles and a walk-on role in the ABC series Grey's Anatomy sold for $460,000. A private luncheon with Martha Stewart brought in $200,000, while dinner with Robert Redford fetched $300,000.

A selection of Shafer wines, including a Napa trip for eight, was purchased for $300,000. A collection of Il Borro wines from Ferragamo along with a trip to Tuscany for six fetched the same amount.

Collectible cars raced into the top spots at the auction, with inspired bidding over unique offerings. A rapid-fire battle for the ultrarare 2008 Rolls-Royce Phantom Drophead Coupe ended with a final bid of $2 million--a record for the event. In addition, a 2007 Bentley Continental GTC convertible sold for $1.3 million, while a custom-made 2007 Maserati Quattroporte garnered $790,000 from a $5,000-per-ticket raffle.

In a change from last year's format, board members decided to eliminate two strategies that had been successful in the past: First, they did not allow donors on stage to entice higher bids for their lots and, second, donors were not allowed to offer a duplicate of their lot to the second-highest bidder. Last year, celebrity chef Emeril Lagasse offered a trip to New York to attend a taping of his television show to the top two bidders for $300,000 a piece. Montecalvo found that the modifications this year counter-intuitively helped raise more money, as it forced the organizers to create lots that were more desirable and not easily duplicated. "Because we made the lots so unique and special," she reasoned, "[the change] only helped us, not hurt us."

With each successive auction posting seemingly insurmountable records, the incoming chairperson for 2008, Don Gunther, will have big shoes to fill. Montecalvo, however, is confident about next year's prospects. "In the past three years, each incoming chairman has asked 'How am I going to do it?'" And yet, the auction has continued to best itself year after year, holding the top spot on the Wine Spectator Top 10 Charity Auction chart for three years in a row. "We have people coming in from all over the country now, wanting to support the cause because they know what we're doing," said Montecalvo.

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