The 2009 Naples Winter Wine Festival didn’t quite muster the waiting list, record-breaking attendance or $1 million bidding volleys of past years, but it did continue its reputation as one of the world’s most impressive auctions, attracting unique travel and wine lots and a host of celebrity chefs and vintners.
Still, organizers were happy with the $5.06 million raised, and the festival’s nine-year tally of $74 million, which funds children’s charities in the Naples, Fla., area. “No one is immune from the economic challenges, and we are especially heartened by the phenomenal generosity of our patrons, donors and sponsors,” said festival chair Tom Galloway.
The three-day festival impressed guests and first-timers, who paid $7,500 per couple to attend wine dinners and attend the auction and culinary showcase at The Ritz-Carlton Golf Resort. Those dinners, which transformed private Naples estates into fantasy lands modeled after the festival’s “Dreams Do Come True” theme, paired vintners with star chefs, including Emeril Lagasse, who was matched with good friends Grace and Ken Evanstad. “Emeril knows my wines well,” said Grace, who treated guests in her Naples home to Domaine Serene’s sold-out 2006 Coeur Blanc, a colorless Pinot Noir.
A sign of the times, all of the 65 lots fetched just a fraction of previous year’s bids. Escape packages brought the highest prices of the day: $350,000 for a 10-day Caribbean cruise for 12 aboard the 170-foot luxury yacht “Dream,” and a three-night house party, with a performance by Lee Ann Womack for 10 couples, at Tennessee’s Blackberry Farm, which sold for $240,000. Other exotic travel lots included a wild boar hunting excursion in Tuscany, trips to Australia and India and a Malbec Camp in Mendoza, Argentina.
A five-magnum lot of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti’s 1999 to 2001 La Tãche, 2002 Montrachet and 1991 Romanée-Conti received the highest bid of the festival’s 45 wine lots, selling for $150,000. A never-before released Salmanazar of each of Grace Family Vineyards’ Cabernet Sauvignons went for $50,000.
Before the auction, a smattering of celebrities—baseball’s Cal Ripken and Rusty Staub and TV’s Judge Judy Sheindlin, a festival trustee and part-time Naples resident—mingled with 500 guests who sampled signature dishes prepared by Ritz chefs from across that state. Peter Michael Winery’s Les Pavots, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc, proved a popular pour, running out long before the dozens of wines offered for tasting. “This is always such a great event and a great venue,” said Salvatore Ferragamo, the grandson of the Italian designer and one of the festival’s 28 vintners, who donated a trip to his Il Borro estate. “It’s for such a worthwhile cause.”