Naples Winter Wine Festival chairman Scott Lutgert was given a nickname by his fellow trustees. "Ten," they called him and chanted aloud, making it clear to everyone what their goal for the 2005 event was.
As it turns out, they should've called him "Eleven."
In only its fifth year, the Naples Winter Wine Festival solidified its position as the top charity wine auction in the United States, bringing in more than $11 million at the live auction on Feb. 5.
That figure tops the record set in 2001 by the Napa Valley Wine Auction, which had been the dominant fundraiser until last year, when the Naples auction earned $6.67 million, beating out the $5.3 million later raised by the 2004 Napa auction. The challenge has prompted the Napa Valley Vintners to restructure their 25th anniversary event, to be held this June.
Under a tent on the lawn at The Ritz-Carlton Golf Resort in Naples, Fla., this past weekend, four large-screen monitors captured all the action generated by two rousing auctioneers and one generous community. The scene often resembled more of a rock concert or a game show than a fine-wine auction. As each hammer fell, celebratory music blared; trustees, vintners and guests embraced; and noisemakers, cheers and applause most certainly disturbed the nearby golfers.
"This is the biggest thing in the wine industry," said vintner Don Stephens, owner of D.R. Stephens in Napa Valley.
The opening lot, which featured six bottles of Taittinger, including a 9-liter bottle of Taittinger Blanc de Blancs Comtes de Champagne 1995, sold for $48,000. As it turned out, that was one of the lowest winning bids of the day.
The top lot of the day brought in $800,000, which gave the winning bidder the keys to a limited-edition, Cabernet-colored Rolls Royce Phantom, engraved with the Naples Winter Wine Auction insignia.
Another top lot came from Tuscany and included six bottles from Tenuta dell'Ornellaia (three bottles each of Ornellaia and Masseto in various formats), three nights at the estate, two nights in Florence, wild boar hunting and a cooking lesson with a Michelin-starred chef. It sold for $400,000.
The weekend also included 17 trustee-hosted dinners that paired top vintners from around the world with some of the best chefs in the country. On Sunday, the event concluded with a brunch at the Ritz-Carlton, under the same tent where history was made a day earlier.