Naples' wine festival -- one of the grandest in the world -- pulls out all the stops.
Bottles of wine to be included in the January auction fundraiser
Naples' love of wine is about to hit a perfect 100. In January, a group of Neapolitan wine lovers and their guests will bring their numbered paddles and wallets to an auction to bid for a true wine rarity, 100 bottles of 100-point wines from Europe and the Americas. (Of all the wines in the world, fewer than 300 have scored a perfect 100 by the omniscient palates of critic Robert Parker or Wine Spectator magazine.)
It is one of the grandest wine lots offered in the world of wine auctions — and Naples is a global power, having raised $82.6 million for the Naples Children & Education Foundation in Collier County in 10 years. Some bottles can command $10,000, but to find them in one place and in a hand-carved commemorative chest is unprecedented.
The names are fabled, including 1989 Chateau Petrus, 1955 La Mission Haut-Brion and the 1985 DRC Romanee- Conti. Yet many of these wines were already at home in the private cellars of Naples, where a small group of wine lovers opens its deep cellars readily for the charity every year.
Bruce and Cynthia Sherman, the chairs of this year's event, have spent a long time seeking out these wines, from collectors, wineries and fellow trustees. "We make sure each bottle was cellared under optimal conditions and in pristine condition," Sherman says, so that the final selection includes wines that can be opened now and others that will live for 40 years. He and others refuse to predict the value of this lot.
It was a love of great wine and the fellowship of sharing it that started the wine fest. A half-dozen couples who enjoyed opening their best bottles for each other decided to expand the party — and serve a pressing need among their neighbors. The charity gave the event focus and raised funds for the foundation to expand and create innovative medical and educational programs for the underserved.
Sherman, who helps select and administer the grants, and other trustees regularly visit the dental clinics, migrant day care, after-school programs and autism centers they support in poor stretches of Naples and the rural areas. They know what those millions mean, he says, "in a state and county with very few social programs."
While the wine world's attention focuses on Naples for three days every January, the love of wine extends all year, says Bruce Nichols, whose website, A Nichols Worth of Wine, advises and supplies many Naples collectors.
"My guess would be that Naples ZIP codes hold some of the greatest cellars in the world. I have clients who stock 5, 10, 15,000 bottles, and many of these have cellars in their other homes to match," Nichols says.
Naples residents Ken and Grace Evenstad started their Domaine Serene vineyard in Oregon 21 years ago.
Four Naples families active in the wine fest have their own vineyards. Swanson Vineyards in Napa, started in 1985, now makes 25,500 cases, including Alexis, a cabernet star. The largest is 35,000-case Domaine Serene, started by Ken and Grace Evenstad in 1989, now considered a first growth of Oregon pinot noir. Naples grower Jeff Gargiulo expanded from vegetables to Oakville vineyards to make cabernet, merlot and Sangiovese.
At Figge Cellars in cool Monterey, Peter Figge handcrafts pinot noir and chardonnay, although father Jim, a wine fest founder, is a Bordeaux fan.
To Grace Evenstad, the link to charity is natural: "Socializing, especially over a meal, usually involves wine. And wine often leads to philosophical discussions and a generous spirit."
Naples Winter Wine Festival
Fellow partiers will include the faces behind Petrus, Taittinger, Colgin, Shafer, Silver Oak and Vina Cobos; chefs from Aureole, the Modern, Naha, Spago, Per Se and Gramercy Tavern; and 300 passionate wine lovers.
Tickets include three days of private dinners, evening parties and visits with at-risk children. They also admit you to bid in the world’s most unusual wine auction — three hours of rapid-fire bidding with all the millions raised going to the Naples Children & Education Foundation.