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Love Was All Around at the 2018 NWWF

The Naples Winter Wine Festival, Collier County’s largest annual fundraiser and one of the world’s most prestigious wine auctions, raised more than $15 million for at-risk children.

BY January 31, 2018

Festival co-chairs welcomed the sold-out crowd of more than 600 people to the auction on Saturday.


From the heart-shaped coins collected at Meet the Kids Day on Friday to the auction paddles that shot up nonstop (with a red-heart design that would make Cupid flip) on Saturday, love was the currency of the 18th annual Naples Winter Wine Festival, Jan. 26-28, 2018, themed “All We Need Is Love.”

Becky and Lewie Card, 2018 co-chairs along with Susie and David McCurry and Kathy and Dan Mezzalingua, came sartorially on-point with custom jackets celebrating the theme. 

By the time the final gavel fell Saturday evening under the auction tent on the lawn of The Ritz-Carlton Golf Resort, Naples, $15.15 million had been raised to help local kids who need it most in a county where zero government funds are allocated for children’s services.

As more than 600 attendees converged under the same tent on Sunday for the annual Celebration Brunch—which rounds out the star-studded weekend of dinners prepared by celebrity chefs and one-of-a-kind auction prizes up for grabs (like the world’s first 2018 Rolls Royce Phantom, sweetened by an imperial of the 2014 Alpha Omega ERA and wine club membership that went for $780,000 after a suspenseful bidding war)—there was much indeed to celebrate and reminisce. Especially Meet the Kids Day, an event unique to a wine auction or fundraiser of this caliber. It's always held at the start of the festival on Friday, and this time ticket holders were bused to the Boys & Girls Club of Collier County, a facility that was built in part by funds raised by the festival. The patrons met and mingled with the pint-sized beneficiaries of their generosity, and the kids made hearts melt by handing out little handmade coins and sharing stories of how their lives have been changed by the work of the festival’s governing nonprofit, the Naples Children & Education Foundation. (The organization writes grants with the money raised from the auction to roughly 30-plus charities each year.)

Every event during the weekend features the planet’s most coveted wines, such as this jaw-dropping Cristal rosé spotted on a table. In the same category of exclusivity as a Birkin, it was a gift from one NCEF trustee to the guests sitting at his table during the auction. 

The “All We Need is Love” theme picked by the festival co-chairs, Becky and Lewie Card, Susie and David McCurry, and Kathy and Dan Mezzalingua, proved to be an undeniable motivator and unifying force. Yes, the big draws each year are the over-the-top auction prizes (“lots” in festival speak), along with the unlimited pours for every attendee—an endless flow of cult labels and priceless vintages from Bordeaux, Burgundy, Napa, Sonoma and beyond. But love was at the heart of what brought everyone to the '60s-inspired festival bedecked in a groovy kaleidoscope of colors. The patrons; master sommeliers; 18 chefs and 30 vintners who donated their time and precious wares; dozens of businesses and organizations near and far who helped build the 61 lots; the co-chairs; fellow NCEF trustees; and full-time staff were all motivated to give, give and give some more so that the money raised during the live auction and the public online auction—the latter of which closes at 11:59 p.m. Jan. 31—is “all for the kids” (the festival’s yearly rallying cry).

In a stroke of unexpected yet promising news, 40 percent of this year’s patrons were first-time attendees (meaning the festival’s reach is broadening); nearly half of the vintners are already secured for 2019 and beyond; and the fund-a-need alone raised $2.3 million, the most ever amassed. The fund-a-need is when paddles go up, up and up—various sums of cash are pledged directly to the NCEF to fund its programs. The co-hosts said all the festival needed was love, and with this kind of outpouring, there’s no denying it is in plentiful supply for the future. “The children are amazing and always are,” said Susie McCurry at Meet the Kids Day, which she considers the most important part of the three-day affair. “One in four go hungry in Collier County on a daily basis. These are the issues we are trying to combat. Every child deserves proper nutrition and a healthy, safe environment to thrive.”

At Meet the Kids Day, Collier County children took center stage and welcomed patrons into their lives. 

This year the kids created little piggy banks for patrons and NCEF trustees, including Paul and Barbie Hills, to fill with heart-shaped coins. 


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