Five hours, $14M at wine festival

By CHRIS SHERMAN, Times Staff Writer
Published January 27, 2008

NAPLES - A bid of $150,000 for a 31 magnums of great wine, $220,000 for a case of 1961 Bordeaux, and $450,000 for a 2009 Bentley motorcar and pretty soon the wine lovers of Naples were talking real money.

In five hours they chipped in $14-million for much less fortunate families and children.

It was shy of the $15.6-million record set last year but the organizers were not disappointed.

"We're ecstatic," said Ann Bain, a trustee of the Naples Winter Wine Festival. "We're leaving here saying with $14-million to spend on the children of Collier County," including new medical services and other programs in nearby Immokalee.

That adds up to nearly $70-million that the auction has raised in eight years.

Naples' reputation of hosting one of the most unusual wine charities in the world is in no danger. The event now has a clear style of big money and little formality.

No other event mixes intimate dinners with chefs flown in by private jets with bus tours of rural poverty for the wealthy as Naples does.

"I've never seen anything like it," said Tony Mantuano the chef and owner of Spiaggia in Chicago. He was joined by other celebrity chefs including Tom Colichhio of New York's Craft and host of America's Top Chef, Ana Sortun of Boston and Bill Telepan of New York.

At $7,500 a couple, more than 500 wine enthusiasts gathered under a tent on the lawn behind the Ritz's golf resort to bid on over 70 lots from full cases, magnums and six-liter imperials of great vintages to grand tours from wine country to Antarctica, and luxury cars including a 2008 Lexus raffled off at $5,000 a ticket.

One of the most expensive wines was a three-liter bottle of 1990 Vega Sicilia, one of the most famous Spanish wines, that sold for $190,000 that includes a visit to the winery. The winner was Julius Gaudio, a young investor from New York. "I knew it was trip I couldn't get any other way."

This year's bidding lacked the single $2-million bid for a Rolls-Royce that put the 2007 auction up to its record figure, but this year's chairman, Don Gunther, said earlier he was not shooting for a record in this year's economy.

Gunther, a Naples resident and former vice chairman of Bechtel, made several big bids himself, including $320,000 for Colgin Cellars wines and an appearance on 24.

By the numbers

Naples Winter Wine Festival

$7,500 Admission cost, per couple.

$240,000 Six magnums of Screaming Eagle cabernet and two commemorative Harley Davidson motorcycles and gear.

$220,000 Case of 12 bottles of 1961 Haut-Brion from Bordeaux.

$190,000 A three-liter bottle of 1990 Vega Sicilia, plus a visit to the winery.