If someone says they’re attending the Naples Winter Wine Festival, eyes widen a bit, jaws subtly drop. Everybody knows Napa’s and Bordeaux’s best, along with the rest of the wine world titans, flow into Southwest Florida for the $10,000-per-couple weekend of vintages each winter that’s enough to make Bacchus go from his normal rosy glow to green with envy.
But until recently, that fun—and fundraising (as the festival’s famed live auction raises millions each year for the nonprofit that runs it, the Naples Children & Education Foundation)—started and ended in January.
Now, the NCEF’s young professional arm, Friends of the Foundation (pictured), is changing that with events hosted throughout the year to drum up interest and support. Most of these gatherings, like happy hours at local restaurants, are open to the public, at considerably easier-to-swallow price points and non-ageist (the Friends, executives in the local business community, range in age from 25 to 50-plus).
And just when the area’s social happenings are sputtering to a stall, the Friends are revving up to host their second annual Grape Celebration. The event, the group’s biggest on the calendar, will take over LaPlaya’s scenic bayside ballroom Friday, May 29, from 6:30 to 9:30. For lack of a better description, think of it as the perfect blend of a cocktail party and a wine tasting on steroids. More than 50 wines from around the globe will be poured, including prestigious labels from household names, like Veuve Clicquot, to Darioush and Chappellet (vintners at the 2015 Naples Winter Wine Festival). Not to mention there will be live music keeping the party going all night and food stations serving up skirt steak with chimmichurri, risottos, cheeses, grilled vegetables, flatbreads—you name it.
The bottles don’t stop with what’s to drink, either. There will be a hefty silent auction with prizes like a wine vertical (for budding oenophiles, that’s several bottles from one vineyard, each with a different vintage) and an eight-person catered yacht cruise. And a “cork pull” is bound to uncork some serious fun—last year’s sold out within just 40 minutes. For version 2.0, the Friends have nearly doubled the amount of bottles, totaling upward of 100. How it works is that each bottle for grabs is worth at least $25 and will have a number attached to it. A huge raffle drum filled with corks is spun around, and for each $25 ticket purchased, you can draw a cork with a number that corresponds to a particular bottle you get to take home at the end of the night. (Since all the wine has been donated, your $25 pulls help fund the NCEF, which in turn supports more than 30 local children’s charities.)
We wouldn’t expect anything less from the next generation raising a wine-filled chalice to help Naples philanthropy. The festival itself announced its 2016 chairs this week: Sandi and Tom Moran and Jim and Laura Dixon. But we’re pretty excited right now to see what their talented daughters, both Friends committee members—Kylen Moran, co-chair of the Grape Celebration with Edee DeLuca, and Brandi Dixon LaFond, owner of Naples Wine Collection and donating wines and expertise to plan the event—and their fellow Friends have in store May 29.
Hosted by the Friends of the Foundation to benefit the Naples Children & Education Foundation
Friday, May 29, 6:30-9:30 p.m.
LaPlaya Beach & Golf Resort
9891 Gulf Shore Drive, Naples
Tickets, $95; to purchase, click here.