October 21, 2014

Naples Winter Wine Festival

So Rare, So Valuable: This Year’s Wine Selections
Moments We’ll Never Forget
2011 Trend-setters: Chef Lee Hefter, Vintner Tim Mondavi
Touching Tales of Kids Who’ve Been Helped

 

The Heart of the Matter

Meet some of the kids helped by NCEF funding. BY SPENCER CAMPBELL

People know the naples Winter Wine Festival for its exclusive wine lots, glamorous jaunts to international locales and appearances by some of the most famous chefs and vintners in the world.

But at the heart of it all—the true incentive, really—is the drive to help disadvantaged kids in Collier County.

A recent University of Florida Lastinger Center for Learning study found that Collier County is home to thousands of children lacking essential care and education. The festival has raised a total of $82.5 million since 2001, enabling its charitable arm, the Naples Children & Education Foundation (NCEF), to address those needs.

So before dollars start exchanging hands at this year’s festival, we examine a few of the true beneficiaries of all those millions.  

 

H.U.G.S.

In 2009, a NCEF study on mental illness returned disturbing results: Nearly 20 percent of Collier’s children may be suffering from undiagnosed and untreated behavioral health issues.

But treating mental health is not as simple as it sounds. “The key word is access,” says David Lawrence Center CEO David Schimmel. “There are lots of obstacles keeping parents from accessing care. There’s a stigma. We need to attack those kinds of things.”

The foundation led that assault by forming a web of local organizations including National Alliance on Mental Illness, David Lawrence Center, Collier Health Services and Youth Haven. The super-group was called Health Under Guided Systems, or H.U.G.S.

“By bringing different organizations together, we’re hoping to provide comprehensive treatment,” festival trustee Anne Welsh McNulty says.

And without this web of service, Riley Norcross, a child of divorce, would have been ignored. Her father, Robert Norcross, noticed after the divorce that Riley fell into a deep depression. He asked the state Department of Children & Families to evaluate her, but their counseling sessions came back without a diagnosis. Finally, an evaluation by H.U.G.S. determined she has severe separation anxiety. Although Robert isn’t happy about his daughter’s affliction, they can now begin the process of healing.

“It’s a great relief for me. I’ve been fighting the state for two years, and [DCF] did nothing,” Robert says. “NAMI and H.U.G.S. brought Riley to the forefront.”  

The program achieved this due to a $603,350 grant provided by NCEF. This allows the program to conduct screenings across the area—using a 32-foot H.U.G.S.-mobile and a furry mascot named Huggy Bear—and directing those who require treatment to participating agencies.

“There’s not much funding out there for children’s mental health. The Florida government is going backward in terms of funding,” says Schimmel.

In five months, H.U.G.S. has screened more than 600 children younger than five for emotional and behavioral problems, according to Kathryn Leib Hunter, executive director of NAMI of Collier County, identifying 135 who would have missed treatment. Another 500 children will be screened by June.

“It brought focus to children’s mental health,” Schimmel says. “It brought people together and identified kids to get them the help they need.”

 

ABLE Academy

On the Sunday following Thanksgiving, Marcia David’s youngest son, Drew, 10, came down with a stomach virus. It may seem strange that she was proud when Drew said, “Tummy hurt. Tummy hurt.”

But it wasn’t so long ago that Drew, who’s autistic, wouldn’t speak at all, in addition to unexpectedly wandering off and avoiding any kind of social interaction.

But thanks to ABLE Academy, a center for therapeutic treatment of children and adults with developmental delays, and the funding it received from NCEF, Drew learned sign language, began speaking and is now even reading.

“That’s amazing to my husband and me. This was the first Thanksgiving where he wanted to be in the room,” David says. “I can’t express how grateful I am in words.”

Colleen Cornwall opened ABLE Academy in 1996 as a roving mission, bringing her staff and her devotion to the principles of applied behavior analysis into the homes of her students.

Cornwall and her staff attack their students’ learning and social disorders by building new behaviors through one-on-one instruction, speech therapy and small groups. Eventually, Cornwall expanded ABLE to a brick-and-mortar campus, but by 2009 that location was too small for the burgeoning school’s enrollment and 12 employees.

As luck would have it, a larger, 13,000-square-foot facility became available that same year; a facility that would enable ABLE to treat more than 60 students.

Enter NCEF.

Not only did the foundation assist ABLE in acquiring the building, when Cornwall found the facility infested with mold, a bad air-conditioning unit, a failing roof, etc., the foundation vested a $66,500 grant to ABLE so Cornwall could refurbish the building. ABLE moved into its new surroundings earlier this year.

“It’s so much more equipped for these kids,” David says. “It’s
no comparison.”

The foundation also gave the center a $125,000 grant for 10 scholarships and a speech therapist. (It’s only fair to also give credit to the more than 1,000 volunteer hours the school’s staff and parents provided to make the place habitable.) 

“The Naples Children & Education Foundation has been instrumental in the growth of ABLE Academy. The financial support has allowed more children to access programming, but [the foundation’s] reach goes far beyond financing programs,” Cornwall says.

In its campaign on mental and behavioral health, the festival shows that it’s not content to battle only front-page issues. Its contributions to mental and behavioral health through ABLE Academy and the H.U.G.S. program illustrate a desire to dig deeper, to find the real answers, and to be pioneers in treating the underserved children of Collier County.

“We always supported [mental health]. We weren’t late to the party,” Welsh McNulty says. “Now we’re making it a bigger party.”

 

Picture Perfect

There were good times and goodwill aplenty at last year’s dinners and auction.

 

Fifteen vintner dinners kicked off the 2010 Naples Winter Wine Festival for 450 lucky guests at the homes of Naples Children & Education Foundation trustees. Among them, the Fligg/McCurry dinner featured vintner Shafer Vineyards and Chef David Myers of Sona in Los Angeles; the Lund/Dickinson dinner featured Chef Lee Hefter of Spago, Beverly Hills (see story p. NWWF 10), paired with Harlan Estate; and the Malone/Mueller dinner paired vintners Bodega Chacra and Chateau de Beaucastel with Chef Richard Reddington of REDD in Napa.

 

More than $8 million was raised under the tent during the 2010 Naples Winter Wine Festival’s Charity Auction last January to benefit underprivileged and at-risk children in Collier County. Five hundred people attended the internationally known event on the grand lawn of The Ritz-Carlton Golf Resort in Naples. A “fund-a-need” lot, for which patrons dropped on-the-spot cash donations into buckets for a new children’s behavioral health initiative, amassed the most of any single auction lot: $647,850.

 

Follow That Chef

Lee Hefter inspires cooks and influences menus all over the world. BY HELEN NEWTON HARTUNG

Quick! name the james Beard Award-winning executive chef of the renowned Spago restaurant, the trendsetter who has influenced menus and inspired cooks worldwide.

Wolfgang Puck? Wrong!

It’s Lee Hefter, who, as executive corporate chef of Wolfgang Puck Fine Dining Group, oversees some 20 high-end restaurants, a bustling catering division, dozens of chefs and staff, travels incessantly and still manages to dazzle diners regularly at Puck’s Beverly Hills flagships, Spago and the steakhouse Cut.

Hefter is making time in his hectic schedule to serve as the chef de cuisine at the 2011 Naples Winter Wine Festival. With his powerful build, gleaming shaved head and unflagging energy, Hefter is not one to languish in anyone’s shadow, even Puck’s.

Hefter has been cooking since he was a kid in New Jersey; perversely, he credits his mother for his career. “She was a terrible cook, and we lived on Chinese takeout,” he says. “I was fascinated by the flavors and had to figure them out.” Working at a local Chinese eatery got him started, and by 21 he was running a country club. His voracious appetite for learning drew him west, first to an influential Asian restaurant in San Francisco, and then to Puck’s original Spago in 1993.

Puck encouraged his protégé to refine his skills by working for a while in some of the best kitchens in France. Hefter added extensive travel to Asia to his résumé. When Spago Beverly Hills opened in 1997, he was ready to helm the enormous, open kitchen, building on Puck’s legacy but molding the menu to reflect his personal take on French and Asian cuisines.

 Hefter shares his boss’s philosophy, which Puck once bluntly summarized: “We take the best possible ingredients and try not to [expletive] them up.” Hefter and his staff relentlessly seek these superlative items, from custom-bred Montana beef for succulent steaks to seasonal delicacies such as white truffles, and especially to vegetables and herbs grown to order by local, boutique farmers with whom he has developed longstanding relationships. “I am not the type of person who seeks out the exotic or dramatic just to get a rise out of people,” he says. “I let the ingredients speak for themselves.”

Hefter is developing two glamorous new iterations of Cut in Singapore and London, each a unique reinterpretation of the American original. “Asians are used to more exotic foods than Americans, and the English like offal, for example,” he says. “Plus, I’m sourcing everything, like beef and seafood, locally.” 

Expanding in an economic downturn sounds risky, but Hefter sees advantages. “We’ve been able to capture and pass along amazing deals from many of our suppliers—especially wines,” he says. “Argentinean wines, like Malbecs, are a great value. There’s a real upside for our customers.”

Demanding, driven and refined, Hefter is everything a top chef should be—except a snob. His favorite comfort food? He names an iconic L.A. fast food joint. “You can’t beat an In-N-Out [Burger] cheeseburger.”

Puck’s protégé: Spago Executive Chef Lee Hefter is the 2011 Naples Winter Wine Festival’s chef de cuisine.

 

“One Wine, One Estate, One Family”

How Tim Mondavi is promoting the ideals of his legendary father. BY JULIE GLENN

If there were a monarchy in the American wine industry, Mondavi would certainly be the royal family. Its crown prince, Tim Mondavi, will be among the returning winemakers at 2011’s Naples Winter Wine Festival, and he will bring four generations of winemaking tradition to the record-breaking event.

“My daughter Carissa and I took part in the Naples Winter Wine Festival two years ago and had a tremendous time,” he says. “It is really gratifying to take part and share our love of wine with the most passionate wine consumers in the world.”

Mondavi will showcase his latest winemaking enterprise, Continuum. He founded Continuum Estate in 2005 along with his late father, Robert, and his sister, Marcia. The winery makes only one wine from estate-grown Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot.

“I see it as the continuation [or continuum] of my family’s heritage: one wine, one estate, one family,” Mondavi says. It is a very different business model than that of Robert Mondavi Winery, with which the Mondavi family has had no dealings since it was purchased in 2004. “Continuum is small and will stay small,” he says. “It really is all about the vineyard and the one wine we make; it is not about many wines. We lost sight of that at Robert Mondavi Winery, but here on this beautiful mountaintop estate, we are naturally limited in how much we can grow and in how much wine we can produce.”

The Continuum Estate project is the culmination of Mondavi’s lifetime in the wine industry. Being the son of the most legendary character in the history of American winemaking, he says he never really thought of doing anything else. “From when I was a boy growing up with my family and cousins in St. Helena, I knew that this was the life for me,” he says.

His grandfather Cesare brought the family to the New World, where they began working in the wine industry. Then Cesare’s son, Robert, sought to enlighten the world as to the quality of wine California is capable of producing. “My father, Robert, was committed to excellence and energized the world about wine’s importance,” Mondavi recalls.

His father was the honored vintner at the Naples Winter Wine Festival in 2004, a moment Mondavi still looks back on fondly. “When he came back from the festival, he showed me his award,” he says. “It clearly meant a great deal to him.”

Through the evolution of the family business, Mondavi feels that Continuum Estate now enables him to get back to the ideal his father once set for Napa wine: high quality and small production. “I’ve never been happier in my life.”

 

The Perfect 100...and More

Look for some rare and valuable wines in this year’s creative auction lots. BY JANICE FUHRMAN

In 10 short years, the naples Winter Wine Festival has grown from an idea in the minds of a few wealthy, local humanitarians to arguably the world’s premier charitable wine auction, attracting the best of the best wines and vintners in the world.

What’s the secret? Imaginative auction lots that combine rare and valuable wines with travel, entertainment, fine dining and wine education. The lots are solicited and assembled by a team of festival trustees dedicated to raising money for underprivileged children in Collier County. Many trustees are wine lovers with widespread contacts in the wine world and impressive personal cellars. The event itself transpires at a tempting venue—Naples’ own The Ritz-Carlton Golf Resort.

Creativity and energy drive the auction. Among the 70 lots this year is a first for a charity wine auction: the “Perfection Lot,” 100 bottles of wine that each scored a perfect 100-point score on either wine guru Robert Parker’s or Wine Spectator magazine’s 100-point ratings scales. Wines included come from California cult wineries such as Harlan Estate and Colgin Cellars and French luminaries such as Château Pétrus and Domaine de la Romanée-Conti. To many a wine connoisseur, this lot alone would be the collection of a lifetime.

The idea for the “Perfection Lot” originated with 2011 Festival Chairman Bruce Sherman (who’s co-chairing with his wife, Cynthia) and a part-time sommelier friend. “Not only did we think it would be fun to bring together these great wines, but we knew it would raise a lot of money,” says Sherman. “The fun was in reaching out to so many interesting people, many of whom donated the wines from their personal cellars and some of whom even went out and bought the wines to donate. To hold and display the bottles, we had a beautiful, temperature-controlled, wooden case built by a wonderful local artisan, Thomas Riley, because we knew display was important.”

Auctioneer since the event’s inception, Napa Valley vintner Ann Colginis a frequent donor of her Colgin Cellars wine. This year, her Lot 22 features four rare magnums of Colgin Cellars IX Estate Napa Valley Red Wine and dinner for eight with Colgin and husband Joe Wender at Michelin-starred Per Se restaurant in New York.

“We sought to create an experience for a bidder that is not possible to do on their own,” Colgin says. “Of course, people could go to the restaurant on their own, but could not be entertained by the vintner in the private dining room and share wines from our own private collection. In trying to raise the most money for the kids, we are also trying to create memories for our bidders.”

She chose to hold the dinner at Per Se, the restaurant of friend and fellow Napa Valley resident Thomas Keller (of French Laundry fame) because “Thomas and I have like-mindedness about charity and often partner together to do charity events.”

Part-time Naples residents Bill and Rosann Nunnelly tried to stimulate both male and female interest with Lot 52, which features Bordeaux’s Château Cos d’Estournel wine ranging from a very rare 18-liter Melchoir to a half bottle. “I call it a ‘piano lot’ because it goes from the highest note down to the lowest note, the largest bottle they make all the way down to the smallest,” says Bill Nunnelly. They added a trip to France, including a night in Paris, a visit and lunch at the Saint Estèphe chateau, and dinner at owner Jean Guillaume’s private home.

“Coming to Naples and seeing the generosity here made me challenge myself in using my imagination to come up with what will interest buyers and get the maximum dollars for the children,” he says.

John Shafer, of Napa’s Shafer Vineyards, found something unique to offer in a 25-year vertical of Shafer Vineyards Hillside Select, the winery’s revered Cabernet Sauvignon. “We’ve never done it before,” he says, “and it represents a milestone for us as a winery, so we made it the centerpiece of our auction lot.” Hillside Select vintages from 1983 through 2007 will be offered.

Also included in Lot 39 are tickets to Auction Napa Valley in June for two couples, resort lodging, dinner at French Laundry and a private winery dinner hosted by Shafer and his wife, Barbara. “We have focused on our wine plus entertainment in the Napa Valley on the theory that people in Naples or other parts of the country would prefer to visit Napa over having us come to them.”

Shafer also notes that for vintners, there are some “very nice perks” to attending the Naples auction. “It’s unique that they fly us in on a private plane. No other auction treats you so well.”

To accomplish this, there is no rest for the trustees. Putting together each year’s auction is a year’s worth of work—or more. “The committee members engage patrons, high bidders, vintners, chefs, trustees and staff to develop and fine-tune each year’s effort,” trustee Michael D’Alessandro says. “Not long after the auction ends, the numbers are crunched backward, forward, up, down, and in any way that can provide insight for continued success. Our charity auction is run just like any successful for-profit business would be.”

Janice Fuhrman is author of Wine Aficionado, Wine Genius and Napa Valley: The Land, The Wine, The People; a regular contributor to Decanter magazine and www.decanter.com; writes “Wine With a Twist” blog; and is writer/producer of Bottling Poetry.

 

Unforgettable!

Trustees share their treasured memories.

BY KRISTIE ARONOW

The naples winter wine Festival is the work of 72 trustees who put their creativity, time and passion into producing a yearly extravaganza. They’ve shared tears, laughter and triumph. Here are some of their favorite moments over the years.

 

Not Exactly
Marie Antoinette

A vintner dinner requires a transformation of the host’s home—often even removing the furniture—to fully embrace a given theme. In 2007, Cynthia and Bruce Sherman were charged with the task of creating “Essential Indulgences.” Cynthia, along with Matthew Huddleston of 50fifty Creative Services, decided on a theme of chocolate and pink champagne. “We transformed the house so that it was really like an infusion of pink,” she says. “One of the symbols for indulgences was Marie Antoinette. I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be fun to have Marie Antoinette?’”

Huddleston, busy preparing about five homes simultaneously, accidentally brought a male manikin. “I ended up calling it Maury Antoinette and we made it look like it was a transvestite Marie Antoinette. We took all of our photos around Maury. It was just very funny. It was far from what I thought it was going to be. But I think it’s kind of a symbol of what can happen with some of these dinners. You plan and plan and plan, and then sometimes things don’t work out. But then you make the best of it, and you have fun with it.”

—Cynthia Sherman, 2011 festival
co-chair with husband Bruce Sherman

 

Only Sunshine

In April 2010, Bob Scott presided over the presentation of grant checks to the charities. “It was pouring rain that day, but it was in a tent on the grounds of the [Naples] Botanical Garden. In spite of the rain, it was very well attended,” he says. “To hear [the charities’ representatives] talk about how we are impacting their programs and their ability to serve the community, it occurred to me: In spite of the fact that it was pouring rain, it was bright sunshine under that tent. I think everyone was really touched, and I was very proud to be associated with the NCEF.”

—Bob Scott, Naples Children & Education Foundation board chairman 

 

The Drive to Help

In 2007, the festival offered a very special prize up for grabs at the auction, a rare 2008 Rolls-Royce Phantom Drophead Coupe. “My father [Raymond Lutgert] and I discussed this beforehand,” says Scott Lutgert. “He looked at the car and said what a great way to give to the kids, and I will get this car as a bonus. The bidding was intense and you [could] see on his face the joy of giving! My father purchased the Rolls-Royce for $2 million! He loved the car and was always very generous to the community.” (Raymond Lutgert passed away
in 2009.)

—Scott Lutgert, 2011 festival vintner committee chair and 2005 festival chair

 

Tears of Joy

It was Ann Bain’s last year as NCEF Meet the Kids Day and Grant Committee chair, and she invited Beth Hatch to speak at Meet the Kids 2010. Years ago, Hatch adopted Max, a little boy from Haiti with severe emotional and physical problems. During Hatch’s speech, Bain felt the festival’s true impact on people’s lives. “They’re both so happy and so wonderful,” she says. “It’s all so worth it when you see a kid like Max, who was taken out of a situation where he could have easily died, and now is thriving in grammar school and has a loving mother. It is nice to know that NCEF has been there to help Max during his incredible journey.”
   —Ann Bain, Naples Children & Education Foundation vice chair 

 

By the Numbers

Intriguing facts that reveal the scope of the Naples Winter Wine Festival’s success.

 

$82.5 million  
Total raised by the Naples Winter Wine Festival since 2001 to improve the lives of underprivileged and

at-risk children

 

$8.1 million 
Amount raised at the 2010 festival under the auction tent, including $647,850 from on-the-spot donations for a new children’s behavioral health initiative

 

37 
Charities that received grants from the Naples Children & Education Foundation (NCEF)—the festival’s founding organization—since the first festival

 

100,000 
Number of underprivileged and at-risk children benefiting from festival proceeds since 2001

 

No. 1 
Ranking as nation’s top charity wine auction since 2004 by Wine Spectator magazine

 

550 
Guests to be under the auction tent at the 2011 festival Jan. 28–30

 

7,562  
Bottles of wine auctioned off at all 10 festivals—100 percent donated

71  
Auction lots of one-of-a-kind treasures and experiences to be offered at the 2011 festival

 

$2 million  
Winning bid at the 2007 festival for a Rolls-Royce Phantom Coupe— one of the highest bids ever for a single lot at a charity wine auction worldwide

 

$7,500 
Cost of a ticket for one couple to attend the festival

 

$20,000 
Cost of tickets for two couples to attend the festival and the same Friday evening vintner dinner at one of 15 elegant private homes

100-foot by 148-foot

Size of the tentset on the grand lawn of The Ritz-Carlton Golf Resort, Naples, for Saturday’s live auction and the Sunday celebration brunch

2,500 
Wine glasses on hand for Saturday’s wine tasting and culinary showcase

 

421 
Number of volunteers who help

to prepare for the gala and are involved during the festivities, serving as wine stewards, greeters, auction spotters, etc.

 

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