Food + Dining Main

Hot Dish: A Taste of the 2015 NWWF

BY January 30, 2015


This year’s Naples Winter Wine Festival—the 15th to be exact (a milestone, for sure, even though no one seemed to focus on that fact)—really underscored the “wine” in wine festival. Never-before released and highly anticipated vintages, a veritable gold mine of bubbly and new interactive experiences for guests, including a special advance tasting and online auction, were just a few things oenophiles had to savor. 

Of course, everyone knows the true aim of the weekend-long event is to raise money to support 28 local children’s charities, but how that happens is through a whirl of magic bidding on live auction lots of mythic proportions. In years past, there was always a car (like the Rolls-Royce Phantom Coupe that went for $2 million in 2007) or an experience (like how in 2012 bidders collectively spent $1.22 million to attend a private concert by country star LeAnn Rimes) that garnered a lot of attention. But this year, a collection of 130 bottles of Krug champagne and a flight of other rare wine-centric lots stole the show. In fact, much of the total $12.3 million raised Jan. 24 was evenly spread out over the 63 lots, a testament to the overall quality of each offering—plus an extra $231,000 that was raised from the debut online auction.



Olivier Krug himself, the head of his family’s historic French cellar, was on-hand to see his treasure trove—an almost dizzying display of the world’s finest champagne, something seasoned auctioneer Humphrey Butler remarked he had never seen before—fetch $500,000 and the distinction of being the night’s single highest-earning lot.

Krug, the honored vintner of last year’s festival, had the double distinction of opening the 2015 festival with a brand new wine tasting seminar, which, surprisingly, was open to the public (but out of reach for most, with tickets going for $1,000 a pop). On Thursday afternoon, he led a coterie of guests through samples of his effervescent beauties, including older, rare vintages of his premier Grande Cuvée. Each Grande Cuvée release is a blend of 120 wines—some of which have aged for longer than the Naples Winter Wine Festival has existed! (When you realize how quickly our corner of the world has put itself on the map in an industry with such deep roots, saying it’s rather remarkable is an understatement.)



Speaking of roots, this year’s honored vintner was the Marchese Piero Antinori, a genteel and stately Italian nobleman who is the current leader of Marchesi Antinori, a Tuscany-based house that has been passed down through 26 generations and can trace the family tree in the business back to 1385. His own push in the 1960s to bring the focus of Chianti Classico producers back to taste by abandoning antiquated DOC regulations spurred what came to be known as the Super Tuscan revolution of Italian wine. Cabernet-heavy Italian blends are still certainly not the norm, so his prized Solaia is like liquid gold. A lot of 12 magnums (the equivalent of 24 standard 750-mL bottles) that included a trip to Villa Antinori, the family’s estate, and a tour of their vineyards raised $180,000.

To put things in perspective: $100,000 is enough to pair 170 at-risk children in Collier County with mentors. $250,000 provides tutoring to 110 foster children. $500,000 covers a year of comprehensive vision care, including glasses, for 20,000 kids. When Saturday’s grand total surpassed $10 million, if you listened closely enough through the din of cheers, you could hear the volunteers who work at the local charities breath a sigh of relief under the auction tent—that’s how much they’ve come to count on the annual revenues.



Sandi Moran, a co-chair of the festival, remarked before the event got underway, “I’m very excited. The energy level is so high. … Each time we go through the lots, we think, these are really great lots.”

One that Moran was particularly fond of—and any collector or wine enthusiast reading this will want to take note—was the 25 magnums and imperials of future installments of Promontory, a new label with its first vintage (2009) being released later this year. The endeavor is the latest of established Napa vintner H. William Harlan of Harlan Estate and BOND, and the Cabernet Sauvignon-dominated wine is expected to be much sought after with fewer than 1,000 cases of each vintage being produced. For anyone keeping score, that lot brought in $300,000. Not too shabby based on speculation alone.




Another interesting aspect of the weekend is what people are raising in their glasses. The organizers not only manage to get the best of the best donations for the prizes but also for afternoon refreshments. This year did not disappoint with a plethora of intriguing sips to accompany the around-the-world nibbles that prime guests before the action gets underway. But one label stood out from the rest as a unique find from an up-and-coming region.

Years after Thomas Jefferson penned the Declaration of Independence, he devoted quite some time to proving that grapes could grow in Virginia, experimenting for three decades with a number of European varietals at Monticello—but it took 200 years more for a dynamic husband-and-wife duo, Rutger and Jenny de Vink, to craft a Bordeaux blend worthy of being poured at the same table with actual Bordeaux.

“Rutger likes a challenge,” says Jenny, of how they settled in Delaplane, Virginia, an hour outside Washington, D.C., to start their boutique RdV Vineyards. “We planted our vines in 2006, the first vintage was in 2008 and we produce 2,000 cases per year. All grapes are grown on site. What’s under vine is around seven hectares, but all told we have 90.”

The future shows promise for this new label, and it’s refreshing to pour some attention on a little-known area. For the couple, it was their first time in Naples, and they shared a candid take on the festivities. “You bring the top wine people here, and there’s a lot of wealth. I’ll be honest, I thought all of it was exaggerated and over-the-top. But it truly is an awesome event. It’s the American Dream. I went to Meet the Kids Day, and when that girl got up and said she was a survivor of sexual abuse, I got goose bumps,” says Rutger de Vink. “If you were an outsider, you’d think, ‘holy cow—there are $500 bottles of wine sitting on every table,’ but there’s no snobbery. These people love wine, but they really care deeply about giving back to the community.”




The de Vinks were not the only people to be charmed the day before the auction at the annual Meet the Kids Day. The heartwarming and humble soul of the festival (ask any of the organization’s trustees and you’ll hear that), the event introduces the bidders and donors to the children who are the beneficiaries of the weekend’s efforts.

This year’s Meet the Kids Day had subtle, playful references to wine that incorporated the weekend’s theme in a tasteful way. Trustees Karen Scott (pictured here) and Joan Clifford, who planned the festivities, had the clever idea for the children to craft and hand out little charms. While they were meant to adorn necklaces their visitors were wearing, you could see they were a sweet spin on the wine charms used at many a dinner party—and why shouldn’t patrons use them at home to jazz up stemware holding their weekend scores? Clay flowers from the Naples Botanical Garden, purple rubber-band butterflies from The Shelter for Abused Women & Children and tiny painted disks with heart-shaped fingerprints from Collier Child Care Resources were just a few of those collected.



The final piece of the 2015 wine fest puzzle to further celebrate the grape and push the envelope was the first-ever online auction that opened to the public Jan. 12. Anyone could register and bid on signed bottles, private wine dinners and tastings at Sonoma vineyards, to name a few—but it created a lot of buzz especially amongst festival-goers. As the live auction wound down when darkness blanketed the Naples sky on Saturday, festival co-chair Chuck Hallberg gave a final push for people to get on their smart phones and keep bidding. Patron Barbara Johnson, a Naples resident and repeat attendee, was just one person who raved about this new component, “I loved the online auction. They should definitely do it again. I’m not going to bid $400,000 for a lot, but I want to contribute—it gives people like me the opportunity to participate, and it’s really all about supporting the children and the wonderful things this charity does.”

The top online prize yielded $32,000 for dinners prepared by three of the festival’s featured celebrity chefs—Tom Colicchio, Paul Bartolotta and Curtis Duffy—and in total, $231,000 was added to the bottom line.

Fifteen years ago, no one in the wine world would have guessed premier Bordeaux cellars would willingly part with their first-growth vintages to help put dinner on children’s tables 4,500 miles away in a remote coast of Florida. Now it’s not a question of what but how much—and it will be a treat to see what surprises the next fifteen years will unearth.


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