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Even in recession, Naples Winter Wine Fest raises $5-million

While hard times hit even wealthy Naples, its big-hearted wine-lovers dug further into deep pockets to raise $5-million for the far less privileged at the Naples Winter Wine Festival last weekend.

The final total was a fraction of the amount that in past years made Naples the world's richest wine event. Last year's event raised $14-million. Still, the auction remains Florida's most lavish and generous affair, studded with food and wine stars, including the Food Network's Emeril Lagasse.

Most of the 300 patrons and festival organizers were upbeat about bids for grand wines and trips, happily stomping a flood of balloons under the big white tents at the Ritz-Carlton Golf Resort, a few miles from one of Florida's poorest farmworker communities.

The most expensive wine lot was five magnums of Romanee-Conti which fetched $150,000. Other grand wine lots included a vertical of 36 years of California's first great cabernet Georges de la Tour Reserve from Beaulieu Vineyards ($35,000) and its newest, three double magnums of Screaming Eagle ($110,000) and a 15-year vertical of Araujo Eisele Estate ($100,000).

Baseball legend Rusty Staub contributed bottles of 10 great Burgundies from 2005 — and four tickets to the Mets' home opener -— and dinner at Daniel ($80,000).

The largest single bids went for packages of wine and travel like $350,000 for a 10-day food and wine cruise for 12 in a 170-foot boat to anywhere in the Caribbean or a $220,000 Italian vacation including a wild boar hunt.

"We know these are tough times and we didn't set a (goal) figure going in, we just let it flow,'' said chairman Don Gunther. "I'm really happy with what we did .We're fine.''

Fellow organizer Tom Galloway wasn't disappointed either. "I'm humbled by what these people did,'' he said. He shrugged off the bad economy: "These kids don't read the papers, they just have needs.''

"We can do a lot with $5-million'' said lawyer Bob Clifford, a trustee and a happy bidder whose money will aid Collier County agencies that help local kids in migrant farm worker centers, shelters and programs for the autistic.

In the first eight years, philanthropists and wine collectors who pop $50,000 to $100,000 for rare vintages, cult wines and luxurious trips have raised $69-million for the Naples Children & Educational Foundation.

Over the years, the money has provided funds for entire child care centers, a new pediatric dental clinic and mobile units that range from Immokalee to the poorest parts of east Naples.

Even in recession, Naples Winter Wine Fest raises $5-million 02/09/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, February 10, 2009 10:37am]
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