The final figures are not yet tallied, but Wine Weekend St. Pete looks to have been a huge success in terms of fundraising for the Museum of Fine Arts, St. Petersburg. Guests were gaga over the decor in the museum's Marly Room on Feb. 7 when patrons, sponsors and other VIPs gathered for a black-tie dinner presented by chef Tyson Grant and the staff at Parkshore Grill.
Dimity Carlson led the event committee, which had nearly 50 members from the presenting Margaret Acheson Stuart Society and help from the museum staff as well.
Action moved to the Vinoy Renaissance St. Petersburg Resort on Feb. 8 for a gala wine dinner and auction, where nearly 250 participants bid thousands of dollars for luxury lots of wine, travel, jewelry and private dinners.
Art lovers started with a silent auction that offered bidding by smartphone on rare wines, dinners, sapphire jewelry and glass by Baccarat, Waterford and St. Petersburg's own Duncan McClellan.
More than 40 wine lots in the silent auction were donated from the cellars of local collectors and friends of the museum. A single bottle of 1973 Mouton Rothschild with a Picasso label, given by Lynn Bulleit, fetched $600. Six bottles of the sought-after pinot noir from Williams Selyem of Sonoma given by Chris and Bob Hilton went for $480, $100 over estimates.
The biggest wine price tags were $750 for six bottles of 2011 Chateauneuf-du Pape from Beaucastel and two magnums of 2010 Carte Blanche donated by vintner Nicholas Allen, the star vintner and guest of honor of this year's event.
He had much more to give, as both a visiting vintner and local hero. His family owns the fabled Chateau Haut-Brion in Bordeaux, and Allen has started an impressive label in Napa. He divides his time between California and Florida, where he lives with his wife, Teil, a Tampa native.
More of Allen's Carte Blanche was poured during dinner from chef Mark Heimann, and many more bottles from his personal collection came out in the live auction.
Prompted by volunteer auctioneers Jeffrey Burchard in black tie, Thomas DuPont in a signature suit of pop-art zigzags and Liz Flower in sparkling sequins, bidders raised their paddles high, offering as much as $20,000 for various combinations of wine, travel and stays. The most expensive was a single bottle of 1995 Chateau Petrus, the legendary merlot, which brought $2,100.
Previous guest vintners, Jean-Charles Boisset, St. Petersburg native Fred Schrader, the Staglin Family Vineyards and Domaine Serene also donated items to the 2014 auction. For the future, the museum gained new winery friends at Relic Wine Cellars, Keplinger Wines and Lachini Vineyards who were honored along with Allen.
Helen Keplinger said she was charmed by St. Petersburg and the museum: "It's so warm and welcoming and intimate. I haven't had enough time to see everything.''
It was a night of wine, art and generosity in all directions. That included individual contributions from $100 to $3,000 to the museum's children's programs that bought nothing more than a chance at random single bottles of wine.
A big cheer arose when one of those bottles went to Bud Risser, who had just given away more than two dozen fine bottles of his own for the good of the museum.
On Feb. 9, there was a jovial gathering for a Jazz Brunch by Olympia Catering in the museum's glass Conservatory, and automobile aficionados crowded around the entries in the duPont Registry Concours d'Elegance.
The 40 donors who participated in the Feb. 1 "Grape Escape" nibbled on hors d'oeuvres in a private home before being delivered by limousine to surprise destinations for wine pairings and dinner.
One of the most ambitious fundraising projects in the Tampa Bay area, the benefit should prove to be another boost for the museum.
Times correspondent Chris Sherman contributed to this report.