Updated 5 yearss ago
NAPLES – Nowhere else in the wine world do so few give so much with the speed and noise of the bidders at the Naples Winter Wine Fest.
They did it again last weekend raising more than $8.5 million in six hours for thousands of at-risk children within 20 miles of 500 donors under an inflated white tent on the lawn of the Ritz-Carlton Golf Resort.
”That’s a million and quarter an hour,” figured Bob Edwards, a Naples money manager who chaired the 13th edition of the event with his wife, Terry.
The money went for exotic sports cars, luxury trips and safaris, and wine, exceptional wines. The most fabled labels were present: Mouton Rothschild, Antinori, Kistler, Harlan and Shafer, by the case and in bottlings of salmanazar and balthazar size (9 and 12 liters).
For those who watch the Naples bidding as a barometer of national economy and optimism, this year’s total fell behind the $12.4 million last year yet was still of world-leading generosity. The total was well above the $5 million to $6 million that the Naples Children & Education Foundation gives each year to day care and after-school centers, pediatric clinics, migrant worker programs and other agencies across Collier County.
“You people were great,’’ Edwards told the crowd after the final gleaming streamers flew Saturday afternoon. “I couldn’t be more happy. I’m thrilled.”
If bidding was restrained by a still-slow economy and unsettled politics, the money and the mood were not subdued by any measure of wine or philanthropy. “Some of you got some real bargains this year,” Edwards cracked in a wrap-up Sunday. “I’m thrilled for you too. It keeps you coming back.’’
Only in Naples could $20,000 be a “bargain” for a six-liter bottle of Dominio de Pingus and private tour of the cult winery in Ribera del Duero.
That was one of the cheapest lots of the day. Many zoomed from $20,000 to $240,000 in under 3 minutes, which is how some of the wealthiest families in America have raised more than $115 million in 13 years for their poorest neighbors.
They do it with star chefs, wine makers and sommeliers jetted in for three days and their own gusto. With short-rib sliders and chocolate ganache lollipops on the table and booming rock on the sound system, the joyful racket is unlike any event in Europe, said Laurent Ponsot, who owns a 150-year-old Domaine Ponsot in Burgundy.
“You have to keep in mind the good cause. Without it, it’s just crazy. With the cause, it’s gorgeous,” Ponsot noted.
For Tim Mondavi, the feeling is much the same. He’s very proud of Napa’s annual June auction that his father, Robert Mondavi, helped to start decades ago. (Last year, the Napa event raised more than $7.6 million plus more online).
“I’m very proud of what Naples does too, to see how generous this community is,” said Mondavi.
Aside from wine, there were also jewels, watches and trips to Tuscany, Bordeaux and Cambodia, Triple Crown races and the Emmys. But the top prices were won by cars.
In that race, Ferrari outpaced Maserati. A 2014 Quattroporte V8 fetched $340,000, only to be outpaced by Ferrari’s F12 Berlinetta, which fetched $750,000.
Winning bidders were former Morgan Stanley President Bob Scott and wife Karen, longtime trustees of the festival. When the car arrives from the factory, the Scotts will get two days of practice at a test-driving track in Quebec.
The best buy of the day for pure wine may have been a 65-bottle vertical of Chateau Mouton Rothschild’s Artist series starting in 1945, each label designed by different artists, including Picasso and Chagall.
For an added attraction, the lot included a 6-foot round table designed by Naples artisan Thomas Riley that displayed all the wine. Tim Fogerty, an IT executive from St. Louis who lives part of the year in Naples and a fan of both wine and furniture, won the bidding at $180,000. That was still less, according to auctioneer Humphrey Butler, than buying each bottle on the rare-wine market.
“This is our first time here,” Fogerty said with a grin. “Obviously we’re having a great time.”