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Anatomy of a Miracle: Behind the Scenes at the Naples Winter Wine Festival

A look at how the fabled festival comes together.



As you ascend the drive to The Ritz-Carlton Golf Resort, Naples on a certain Saturday each January, you could easily be pulling up to an exotic car show. The endless Ferraris and Bentleys are the day’s first whisper saying: You have arrived. And so you have, for this is the world-renowned Naples Winter Wine Festival auction—the pinnacle of a three-day affair for the Naples Children & Education Foundation costing a minimum $10,000 per couple. That’s not counting the huge sums offered when bidding begins (or the separate, more intimate $2,500-per-person pre-festival wine tasting luncheon). After the valet promptly whisks your own luxury wheels away, warm greeters welcome you through the hotel doors. Nothing but simple signage belies the grandeur ahead.

After you pick up your best accessory (your paddle) and take a last look around the lot room at the packages for which you’ll display it, you emerge outdoors and the party begins.

The scene on the sweeping lawn before you is something like “garden party-plus.” You’re met with the gleaming heft of rare cars on auction, the enticing aroma of exotic food. Among the chatter of nearly 600 mingling celebrities, humanitarians and industry titans rubbing elbows, corks of the finest wines faintly pop. The mood is stylish and mellow. But soon enough, it shifts.

A marching band turns it more feverish, because it signals the main event. As the musicians file into a cavernous white tent, you follow, a sea of brightly shirted volunteers welcoming you as fans would a rock star into this chandelier-studded arena. The first looks inside elicit ooh after aah, but you must settle down enough to take your seats. The hammer comes down at 1 o’clock.

From that point on, paddles are flying, glasses are full, laughs are plenty and hearts are bursting with the mission until the very end.

Like the audience of a movie (or readers of a magazine), guests of the Wine Festival surely are meant to think only of the spectacular, seamless finished product—not what it took to get there.

“I think sometimes people think that the Wine Festival is just a bunch of rich people drinking wine,” acknowledges NCEF Chief Executive Officer Maria Jimenez-Lara.

Yes, they do, and yes, there’s that. But more than $146 million for Collier County children has been raised not by the snapping of fingers, but by the rolling up of sleeves. By meticulous planning. By harmonious collaboration.

The 17th annual magic act is set to unfurl Jan. 27-29, and we are taking you behind the curtain. Key contributors have shared the inner workings of the most coveted fundraising ticket in our region. Our lips are sealed on some surprises that must be saved for the guests, but read on for plenty of auction, vintner dinner and more insider details revealed.

High spirits at the auction have raised more than $146 million for Collier County children. (Photo courtesy NCEF.)

 

The Faces of a Festival

The Naples Winter Wine Festival comes down to a series of numbers. This year’s reads something like this: 63 live auction lots; 65-plus online ones; 33 vintners; 18 sommeliers; 18 chefs; 18 vintner dinners; 580 patrons; eight contributing staff members; more than 100 trustees; roughly 315 day-of volunteers; and, the biggie, more than $146 million raised to date. But no matter how much money is added to that whopping total, another figure will supersede all others in the memories of 2017. And that’s eight—the unprecedented number of trustees who signed on as festival chairs.

Now, eight festival chairs may sound like the stuff of group project nightmares. But this group—six of eight having chaired or essentially chaired before—has been making a name for itself as an impassioned, well-oiled machine.

First to sign on were vintners and founding couple Jeff Gargiulo—the festival’s original chair—and Valerie Boyd.

“We’ve been here the whole 17 years,” Valerie says, “and as part of the founding group we felt it would send a good signal that we’re still so committed.”

Time has told that you lose more than a little sleep when it’s just one couple. So, they had their eyes on then-brand-new trustees Bill and Debbi Cary to join them.

When the couples shared a car ride back from the 2016 festival’s Meet the Kids Day, clever Valerie decided that while everyone was feeling uplifted she’d casually gauge the Carys’ interest. Sure, they’d consider it, the Carys said. Someday down the road. Fast-forward to the following day, when Valerie capitalized on the blissful mood again.

“Valerie stuck her head between Debbi and I at the table on Saturday afternoon,” Bill says. “She said, ‘We’re going to sign up for this. Do you want to join us?’”

They high-fived on the spot, and the four were announced the next day at the festival’s Sunday brunch. But Valerie wasn’t done yet.

“All along, I had wanted to contact Simone and Scott Lutgert,” she says. Scott had been chair No. 5. With an email dinner invitation to the Lutgerts, who were away on vacation, Valerie made her first move. When they got together, the proposal came.

“I was like, ‘Oh no, I’m feeling real relaxed, no. I don’t think this is going to work out,’” Simone says. “And Scott’s like, ‘Well, you know, maybe. Yeah, that could be an idea.’ ... I’ll never forget as we got up to leave and Valerie said, ‘OK, we’ll go to the board,’ and I’m like, ‘Whoa, no, I have not said yes!’”

Well, husband and wife talked it over, and in the end they were in.

Chairs seven and eight came in another staunch founding couple, Brian (chair No. 2) and Denise Cobb. The two had turned down a return several times, but when they saw how the leadership was shaping up, there simply “was no way” they weren’t going to be involved.

And so began the dream team—or the octo-chairs, as Brian affectionately calls them—a meld of veteran experience, fresh perspectives and eightfold hyper-focused efforts toward a common cause.

 

Meetings of the Minds

Events and Communications Director Lisa Juliano and Festival Director Barrett Farmer. (Photo by Brian Tietz.)

Lisa Juliano, NCEF’s director of events and communication, says many people have the same question of her and other festival staff. “That’s a year-round job?”

Is it ever. As per usual, the planning for 2017’s event began quite a bit before the first 2016 gavel fell. Some components to 2018—like multiple vintners—are long confirmed and filed away.

But this year has seen a push like never before. And the staff and chairs are developing a physical blueprint of their journey—a living, breathing document of deadlines, processes and division of labor to ensure future success.

“We think the template says, ‘Don’t do this alone anymore. It’s too important,’” Brian says.

With the closing of the 2016 festival, he and the other chairs essentially took on full-time work as well.

They got down to business the very next weekend, meeting to divide the dizzying responsibilities according to each chair’s expertise. Playing to individual strengths has proved an efficient strategy, but so has cross-pollination.

The chairs continued to come together every week through April. When everyone scattered for the summer, they reconvened around the country—Napa Valley in June, North Carolina in August, New York in September. They then met monthly until the big day, with emails and calls consuming virtually every day in between.

Though Bill divulges, “I would say we don’t have a meeting without a good bottle of wine,” all involved will tell you that when they’re in those one-, two-, three-day meetings, they’re working. Hard. But there were laughs, too.

The North Carolina assembly was at a home of the Lutgerts’, in Linville Ridge. While there, the group got clarity on the business at hand, but there was none of that when it came to rolling mountain views. It was so foggy that the visiting chairs not only had to scrap their scheduled helicopter ride from the Charlotte airport and drive two hours to the home—they also couldn’t see a thing out the Lutgerts’ windows. As luck would have it, the mist lifted as soon as they left, everything looking gorgeous the very next day.

“Scott sent us all a picture of what it really looked like,” Denise says. “We were like, ‘Suuure! This is Photoshopped!’”

Also in most meetings were the executive staff: Maria, Lisa and Festival Director Barrett Farmer. (“Barrett knows everything. It’s why we gotta write it down,” Brian says. He’s only half-joking. “If Barrett gets hit by a bus, we’ve got a problem.”) And “the more minds the merrier” was taken one important step further: The group officially opened up the floor to the remaining trustees. It’s safe to say much excitement and many a bright idea has hinged on this move.

The first of these six additional meetings could have been mistaken for a giant game of Charades, with the eager group gathered around a flip chart in Jeff and Valerie’s backyard. Hand after hand shot up to volunteer for vintner dinner hosts, airfare donations, other pieces for the lots.

“It shows the power of people,” Jeff says. “One of the things I’ve always hoped (is) that we could put together a model and present it to other communities and say, ‘You can do the same thing.’ But if you can’t get that core group of trustees like we have here in Naples, who have the time, the treasure and the talent, it’s more challenging.”

Another memorable trustee meeting centered around a festival first: an original song, to be performed at the auction. Jeff brought in his friend Monty Powell, the Grammy-winning singer-songwriter behind most of Keith Urban’s hits, and Powell’s wife, jazz singer Anna Wilson. The two guided the group in producing For the Children.

“We sat around and everybody yelled out their ideas,” Debbi says, “and we pulled it all together.”

Valerie Boyd, Debbi Cary, Simone Lutgert, Scott Lutgert, Jeff Gargiulo, Brian Cobb, Denise Cobb and Bill Cary at the Lutgert's home. (Photo by Craig Hildebrand.)

 

Running Start, Finishing Touches

Like any good party, the festival really gets going with its theme. It trickles down to touch nearly every element of the weekend, unlocking the logo, the printed materials, each event’s décor. Funny enough, this year’s did not come from the amazing team efforts—or on solid ground.

“I run 4 or 5 miles a day,” Valerie says. “So I’d be on the treadmill in the morning running and I’d say, ‘Let good thoughts come in! To the whole charity, let good thoughts come in.’ Then all of the sudden I went, ‘Bright Sunshiny Day!’ It was just like, ‘Boom!’ in my head, ‘this has got to be it.’ … For the kids—we want their lives to have bright, sunshiny futures.”

The next step was for appointed visuals leader Simone to find a graphic artist to work comfortably with. Not an easy task, when you see the sheer number of pieces you must create: the save the date, the spiral-bound invitation booklet (covering the Vintage Cellar, Meet the Kids Day, a lot room preview, the live and online auctions, each of the vintner dinners, the Wine Down party, the closing Sunday brunch, strategic initiatives, sponsors, an eight-panel RSVP card and more), an additional invitation for the private Grand Crew party, the auction lot catalog, sponsored auction paddles, mailing labels, PR pieces, electronic counterparts.

If you’ve never seen the package deal, here’s a clue as to its importance: The bag given to patrons at the auction—this year a leather Brahmin—is designed with the dimensions of the lot catalog in mind. A separate piece outlining the lots is printed on paper thin enough to be rolled up in bidders’ pockets. Mailings consisting of paper that’s vulnerable to fingerprints are assembled with gloves. And, to test their exterior packaging, auction invitations get a practice run.

Simone eventually locked in busy designer Sherri Morrison, with whom she’d worked before. But not without some persuasion: “I just begged and pleaded with her and said, ‘I promise it will be easy, I’ll make decisions, I won’t micromanage you, whatever it takes! I really want you to do it.’”

They wanted to keep things simple yet elegant. With elements such as grapevine-like text, gold foil and warm hues, the aim was “whimsical without being too whimsical.”

We expect there will be no holding back, however, when it comes to the décor.

To help with that task, Simone enlisted another of her favorite partners in Matthew Huddleston of 50Fifty Creative Services to assist her and the expert Ritz-Carlton with the auction. A tour of the acutely organized NCEF warehouse demonstrates just how much is reused year after year, as well. Almost everything you see there is trucked in to the Ritz—glassware, clipboards, maracas, you name it.

Simone promises that whatever the weather, the inside of the tent will be a bright, sunshiny day, but organizers typically keep mum on décor details to preserve the biggest reveal for the guests.

Same goes for the prestigious Friday vintner dinners, aside from their themes. This year’s 18 hosting trustees chose from sunny spinoffs devised by Valerie and Denise, like “Here Comes the Sun,” “Sunrise, Sunset over Casablanca.” (To see the home where the Cobbs will host their “Sunshine, Lollipops and Rainbows” dinner with lifetime trustees Shirlene and Bob Elkins, turn to p. 209.)

If past dinners are even the slightest indication, we know to expect breathtaking, dramatic, imaginative productions from floor to ceiling and room to room. Because for that décor, the hosts themselves are footing the bill.

And with that, it’s time for dinner.

 

Splendor is Served

Wine Festival organizers take care to ensure every single guest of the 18 vintner dinners additionally has car service to and fro, thus guaranteeing wine-free designated drivers.

“When we know the first pickup is happening,” Barrett says, “you can hear a pin drop in the office.”

While Lisa stands in the Ritz-Carlton lobby to make sure all patrons staying there find their rides, Barrett waits back at the office praying the phone doesn’t ring. If it does, she’s ready to solve anything that might come up: other guests getting in the wrong car, cars showing up late, cars not showing up at all.

The festival deploys a transportation company’s entire Southwest Florida fleet of limos, SUVs and sedans—plus its resources in Fort Lauderdale, Miami and Tampa. (“We’ve learned to stay away from Super Bowl weekend,” Lisa says, “because if the Super Bowl is in South Florida anywhere, we can’t get enough cars.”) Even attendees whose assigned dinners are on their own streets will still want a car, Barrett says. A certain former TV host once wanted a trip to the McDonald’s drive-through, too.

Guests request their top five dinner location choices and almost always get one of them, but those with a history of big bidding have priority. Then there’s the factor of the home. Some can fit only the smallest group of 24 people; others can better fit the maximum of 40.

The matter of which host is paired with which chef and vintner(s) is always settled in secret, for reasons of diplomacy. As a vintner, farmer and former head of Sunkist, Jeff was a natural choice to configure the combinations, along with Society of Bacchus member Scott. (Jeff is a chef in his own right, Brian says before he playfully discloses that Jeff’s wife, Valerie, is not: “I’ve known her 20 years and I’ve never seen her cook.” Brian’s own wife, Denise, concedes: “Valerie and I have that in common.”) They studied the style of each chef, offerings of each vintner, personality of each host.

Regardless of their assignment, guests are all but guaranteed to love the combination that awaits them. This year’s roster alone includes Olivier Krug, Deborah and Bill Harlan, Ann Colgin, Pierre Lurton as Honored Vintner; Ryan Hardy, Missy Robbins, Tom Colicchio, Wolfgang Puck as Chef de Cuisine.

Host, vintner and chef usually confer by email or phone about the details, from the number of courses down to the selection of plates. Founding vintner Garen Staglin, back this year for the 15th time with his wife, Shari, sums up the menu approach: “We can’t change our wines, but the chefs can certainly change their food.”

“The wines are such great wines you just want to make sure you’re not getting in the way of them,” seconds Top Chef head judge Colicchio, who will be cooking again at the home of his business partner, trustee Bob Scott. “It’s not about showing off. It’s more of trying to find an interesting pairing.”

Tom Colicchio cooking at a past festival vintner dinner. (Photo courtesy NCEF.)

This year Colicchio envisions winter flavors like chestnut, black truffle and root vegetables to complement a journey of primarily red Harlan Estate wines and Krug champagnes. Any dietary restrictions are handled, he says, just as they would be in his restaurant. And there are plenty.

“I keep a record of them just in case a trustee has a private party,” Barrett says.

Getting the stars of the show to town—some by private jet—is never without concern. Lisa recalls her first year, when major snow held captive 20-some culinarians as she scrambled to find them flights. (In the end, only one sous chef didn’t make it out.) But how about their ingredients?

Wines need a bit of care, says Napa-based Staglin. They can’t be shipped during the heat of our season, and they need several weeks to settle once they’re here.

New York-based Colicchio brings all his own components—already butchered and otherwise as prepped as possible—typically by FedEx if not on his person. Last year, he got his stores from his Miami restaurant and drove.

“That worked out really well,” he says. “But if we ever get in a bind, there are so many chefs coming down you can beg, borrow and steal if you need to from someone else.”

The festival doubles as a reunion for the culinary cream of the crop. Colicchio fondly remembers party hopping with chefs including Daniel Boulud at a past festival here.

“At 4 in the morning he raids the fridge and makes breakfast for everyone,” Colicchio says. “That kind of stuff happens. Omelets were made.”

 

A Heck of a Lot

Not every job has one regularly receiving emails with subject lines like “Sting’s Tuscan Villa.” But we know festival staff have no ordinary job, because this is no ordinary event.

If couples can afford the $10,000-and-up ticket, chances are they can also afford almost anything they want. So, the objective: Create auction lot combinations that could not be found, or purchased, anywhere else.

“We pulled the history of all the lots—who bought them, who was the second-highest bidder, everything,” Brian says. “We looked at every single piece of data we could before we started. We then highlighted the best ones that brought in the most money and why, and we started from there.”

For highlights of 2017, just close your eyes and point. You’ll find a table read with the cast of Modern Family; a guest judge role alongside the editors of Robb Report to help select their 2018 Car of the Year; a Caribbean cruise aboard a 126-foot Feadship yacht, formerly belonging to Malcom Forbes; a private home stay on Sir Richard Branson’s Australian island; a private standup show by a rising comedian for you and 49 of your closest friends.

Chairs and trustees tapped all the resources and called in all the chits they could think of, which became color-coded components spread out like paper puzzle pieces. The deft hands of the lot committee then built them into inimitable packages, minding that some must be international, some domestic, some for one couple, some for more.

As Denise says, “We do a lot of begging.”

She clinched the Robb Report piece through the company’s vice chairman, Bill Curtis, her friend and former neighbor in Malibu. The rising comedian booked is Sebastian Maniscalco, Simone and Scott’s son-in-law. Maniscalco was the catalyst for a 20-person luxury suite at Madison Square Garden. A spa experience in the Bavarian Alps came from the Auction Napa Valley network of Valerie and Jeff. Ibiza, Telluride and other featured homes belong to trustees, and so on.

Two of the biggest scores came from one friend of Scott and Simone’s, gallery owner Jane Eckert. Eckert secured not only this year’s featured artist, Eric Forstmann (works by whom Scott and Simone collect), but also one of Forstmann’s BFFs—actor Kevin Bacon.

As just part of their winnings, the highest bidders on Forstmann’s donated oil painting, Intentions, will have a cocktail party with Forstmann, Eckert and Bacon in a private Upper East Side penthouse.

“So instead of six degrees of separation,” Brian says, “this will be one!”

Eckert also is just one degree removed from Chris Noth, aka Mr. Big of Sex and the City. As a result, Noth will attend this year’s auction and dine with the winner of a New York City lot. Denise, Valerie and the Carys’ daughter, who works for Showtime, pulled strings in the TV world to allow those same lot winners to meet Kelly Ripa and the anchors of The Today Show, go backstage at Saturday Night Live and Morning Joe, and—seriously—much more.

Though Barrett was shocked when last year’s Dallas Cowboys lot full of exclusives underperformed—such surprises can happen—we’d say her favorite of this year is a pretty sure bet: a Los Angeles-focused prize starring one Judge Judy Sheindlin.

Sheindlin is a friend of Denise and Brian, so Brian called her up. He asked if she would fly alongside two couples on her private Citation X+ jet, The Queen Bee, to and from LA to have lunch and view a taping of her show.

“She paused about 2 seconds and said, ‘Done. Is that it?’ And I went, ‘Oh my God, I should have asked for more!’” Brian says.

Denise, however, did have one unrealized dream. It was for a soap opera experience—she’s a big fan of Days of Our Lives—with the help of her friend Drake Hogestyn, aka Days’ John Black. But alas, Hogestyn was injured on-set when a scene had him breaking through a defective prop door. He’s fine now, but no lot.

Automobile aficionado Scott headed up the cars, getting a 2018 Audi MY18 R8 Spyder and a 2017 McLaren 570 GT for bidding. The separate raffle car will be a “Phoenix Orange” 2017 Range Rover Evoque Convertible.

And we can’t forget about the cornerstone components, the wine. No disappointments there, either.

Each participating vintner—29 at the dinners and four at Meet the Kids Day—is the anchor of a different lot. Between what will be poured and auctioned, Staglin alone will contribute close to 30 bottles. This makes for very little walking room in NCEF’s 600-square-foot wine cooler.

“It’s really fun-looking in January because we weave the bottles,” Barrett says. “So that it all fits. And we load the cooler in the order in which its going to come out.”

Some vintners, like Staglin, generate their own lot concept. This year his is a romp around India for two couples. Think sunrise at the Taj Mahal, an elephant ride, Bollywood dance lessons, saris custom-made by a tailor to the royal families. Oh, and $25,000—per couple—toward Arunashi jewelry at Naples’ Marissa Collections. Marissa co-owner Jay Hartington had put forth the jeweler, Arun Bohra, as a valuable lot partner who actually lives in Jaipur.

Others vintners need a bit more help with their idea, like Carmen Policy of Casa Piena.

“We’ll call and we’ll say, ‘What do you have that’s unique?’” Valerie says. “Well, he was a former general manager of the San Francisco 49ers and Cleveland. And he’s very into the Football Hall of Fame.”

So from that they developed a three-night lot, one night of which includes dinner at the winery with Policy, Eddie DeBartolo, Joe Montana, Ronnie Lott, Steve Young, Jerry Rice, Charles Haley and possibly Brett Favre and/or Peyton Manning. Cue the jaw drops.

But no matter how spectacular the lot, much is lost if not for the order in which it appears. Which brings us to the main event.

“It’s just critical that it be just right ... You want them to feel it in their hearts like we do.” — Valerie Boyd

 

Judgment Day

Denise has an unusual request for this year’s auction: No carbs.

Unusual, maybe, but purposeful. Last year’s pizza saw bidders crashing in the energy department. So the plan this year is protein and sugar—cheeses, sliders, M&M’s.

Three taste-tested snacks are strategically timed not to fall in the middle of a bidding; strategically chosen to pair with the wine, not be too messy, not loom too large on the tables full of 10 wine bottles, spread-out catalogs and scribbled-on notepads. But food is just one variable in a carefully crafted auction equation.

“We are the queens and kings of timelines and checklists, let me tell you,” Maria says. Let’s just say they see a lot of Microsoft Excel. “And we have something that we call a show flow. And it is 12:01, 12:03, 12:05, 12:07. I mean it is literally what’s happening every time there’s a shift in activity. I had never seen anything like that before.”

Again, it’s all about the energy.

“I’ll be there running around like crazy, high-fiving, screaming ‘Hip hip, hooray!’” Valerie says.

To keep things moving, the group decided early to shorten the affair by 45 minutes this time. But the most crucial element to the right momentum is the last one decided: the order of the lots. It’s subjected to rounds of input, including from the seasoned auctioneers.

Auctioneer Lydia Fenet was recruited from New York five years ago, to join 16-year Wine Festival veteran Humphrey Butler. She was asked to come down to witness that year’s auction before accepting the job.

“I was like, ‘I don’t think I need to see another auction, I do 100 a year,’” Fenet says. “But honestly, when I saw the marching band, I knew this was different.”

That year was the only one she could drink the wine, she says, because all four of her years here she was either pregnant or nursing. That made for an interesting onstage-offstage dance. This year was scheduled to be her fifth appearance, but, what do you know, she learned of baby No. 3, and she would be flying in too close to her due date. Auctioneer Ursula Hermacinski will slip into her place.

History says Butler and Hermacinski will alternate about every seven lots to give audiences a break; that they will receive the lots and any fun backstories at various stages to study; that historically big bidders will be seated facing the stage. Even the 20 seconds of music played after each package will have been chosen with intent—Fly Like an Eagle to celebrate tickets to the Masters, Cheeseburger in Paradise to close the bid on a Caribbean excursion.

Extra assurance that things will run smoothly comes in the form of a generator, extra linens, extra wine. Volunteers receive actual training, and there’s many a plan B.

“It’s just critical that it be just right,” Valerie says. “It’s the whole buildup from that first event Thursday night, that energy building through the weekend to culminate in that day when they’re in that tent and they just feel what I call an irrational generosity. You want them to feel it in their hearts like we do.”

 

It's All Over Now?

As the work to help Collier County children is never done, neither are the preparations for the festival that funds it.

The aftermath is barely less hectic in a week spent firming up numbers, returning rentals, taking inventory and making sure winners pick up their loot. There are also debriefs—Did somebody not like the M&M’s? Were volunteers adequately distributed? Was the music too loud, the AC not quite right? To keep patrons returning, the pressure for perfection is on.

For staff, it’s not until the Friday after the festival that they get to put their feet up. You’d think they wouldn’t want to do so together at that point, but Lisa says they all “go sit out in the sun, which we haven’t seen in months.”

“For years we’ve gone and gotten massages and laid out by the pool and had lunch,” Barrett says. Wine is involved, of course. “I think the night before is the first night we’ve really slept knowing that we don’t have to wake up for anything, and it will be our first day off since pretty much Christmas, New Year’s. It’s the best.”

After that, it’s back to work. In fact, come March it’s time for the most important event of all, the grants distribution.

“Doing it again, I look back and I go, ‘How did we do all that the first year?’” Jeff says. “We have eight of us and a great staff, and there’s still a lot going on. But to raise $150 million is pretty phenomenal. That always keeps us going. If you get off track a little bit or think, ‘Wow, there’s a lot to do here,’ then you think about that and you go: ‘OK.’”

The kids are counting on everyone involved to pull off the magic act all over again.

 


Did We Mention?

Online Auction
What: Auction lots that involve more donors and bidders through lower price points
Where: napleswinefestival.com, Jan. 16-31
Noteworthy: This year’s items will range from $1,000-10,000.

 

Vintage Cellar
What: A separate-ticket wine tasting and luncheon the Thursday preceding the auction
Where: Bleu Provence
Noteworthy: This year, returning vintner Bill Harlan of Harlan Estate, along with his son, Will, will lead a 10-year vertical moderated by wine critic Antonio Galloni. Deborah and Amanda Harlan of the winery will also be in attendance. “If you’re a collector of California cabernets,” Bill Cary says, “this is like the Holy Grail.”

 

Grand Crew
What:
A private welcome party the Thursday evening before the auction
Where: The Continental
Noteworthy: Bill teases “top-secret” entertainment—someone “exceptional, fun and energizing.”

 

Meet the Kids Day
What: Everyone’s professed favorite event, held Friday, where guests meet the nonprofits who have benefited from NCEF grants and strategic initiatives—plus four vintners
Where: Grace Place for Children & Families, Grey Oaks Country Club
Noteworthy: NCEF picked up a new Meet the Kids Day partner in NCH Healthcare System, especially appropriate given this year’s Fund a Need—lot No. 63—of children’s health care.

 

Wine Down
What: Dinner and entertainment directly following the auction
Where: The Ritz-Carlton Golf Resort, Naples
Noteworthy: This year, Jeff Gargiulo—who conceived Wine Down after 300 people ended up at his house following the very first auction—made his longtime wish to end a fancy-food weekend with barbecue come true. Plus, “a killer group of professional musicians from across the country making a jam band.” Expect bibs.

 

Sunday Brunch
What: A champagne wrap-up celebration
Where: The Ritz-Carlton Golf Resort, Naples
Noteworthy: Tune in here for the announcement of next year’s chairs. Our bet is on no fewer than six.

 

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