The Naples Winter Wine Festival was established in 2001 with the goal of supporting the Naples Children & Education Foundation’s mission to improve the physical, emotional, and educational lives of underprivileged and at-risk children in Collier County. In the two decades since, the festival has grown into one of the world’s most acclaimed wine philanthropy events, a charitable endeavor that to date has raised more than $191 million and bettered the lives of 275,000 local children. For the festival’s twentieth anniversary, scheduled for January 24-26, the trustees have done the impossible: made the event more glamorous and enticing than ever before. Here, we showcase some highlights and share insight into a few of the festival’s direct beneficiaries.
Wine is the raison d’être of the festival, and this year’s lineup represents a new generation of the best and brightest. The honored vintner is Saskia de Rothschild, who took over one of the world’s great wine estates at the age of 31 and is now joint manager of Château Lafite Rothschild and chairwoman of Domaines Barons de Rothschild. Will Harlan will be in attendance, representing Promontory, the Harlan family’s latest Napa wine estate. He’ll be joined by Shannon Staglin of Staglin Family Vineyard, Emily and Paul Michael of Peter Michael Winery, Michael Rooney of Bodega 202, and the charismatic Jean-Charles Boisset, proprietor of nearly three dozen wineries around the world. This group of emerging vintners will be accompanied by icons of the wine world such as Piero Antinori, Ann Colgin, Daphne and Bart Araujo, and Laurent Ponsot.
Matching world-class chefs with outstanding vintners is not the easy exercise it might appear to be, but 2020 once again represents the apex of the culinary universe. The festival’s chef de cuisine, Sarah Grueneberg of Monteverde Restaurant & Pastificio in Chicago, showcases the new guard, along with revolutionary young talents such as Ludo Lefebvre of Trois Mec in Los Angeles and Dustin Valette of Valette in Healdsburg, California. With Emeril Lagasse, Thomas Keller, and Nancy Oakes also in attendance, there will be no shortage of established stars either.
Pairing up these talents for Friday’s vintner dinners is an art in itself. This year, the festival’s trustees have come up with some intriguing combinations. Dean Fearing, known as “the Father of Southwestern Cuisine,” will present his bold flavors side by side with the structured, elegant Napa Cabernet of Gargiulo Vineyards and the raw power of Powell & Son’s Shiraz from South Australia. Another highlight will be Lagasse’s savory Cajun creations accompanied by Grace and Ken Evenstad’s graceful Chardonnay and Pinot Noir made in both Oregon and Burgundy.
For the twentieth anniversary, the trustees have assembled a group of 20 Master Sommeliers—probably the largest meeting of Masters in one place when they’re not proctoring an exam and no small feat considering there are fewer than 300 in the world—who will supervise wine service at the vintner dinners and enhance the guest experience on auction day. Some names to watch (both familiar and new) include:
Gillian Balance became the twenty-first woman to earn the Master Sommelier diploma in 2012. She began her restaurant career at The Rainbow Room and Windows on the World under Andrea Immer Robinson; she now works as the national education director for Treasury Wine Estates.
Ian Cauble earned celebrity status when, as an MS candidate, he was featured in the 2012 documentary Somm. Even though he was one of the youngest ever Master Sommeliers to pass, the exam was the culmination of nearly a decade of study that included floor work, time in retail, and making port wine in the Douro Valley.
Keith Goldston’s three decades of restaurant experience reads like a who’s who of the culinary world: Domaine Chandon, Spago, Picasso, Aureole, and Masa’s, to name a few. He’s best known for his relaxed and irreverent approach, which caused Wine Spectator to call him “a wizard at matching food with interesting wines.”
On Saturday afternoon, all eyes will be on the auction tent for the marquee event that has enabled the festival to raise more than $191 million. As usual, the lots will be a mix of wine and lifestyle experiences. Here’s a sample.
Time Traveling Tasting with Château Lafite Rothschild: The winning bidders will have luxury accommodations in Bordeaux for two nights and will receive nine 750-ml (ranging from 1905 to 2010) and six 1.5-liter bottles (from 1955 to 2002) from Château Lafite, signed by Baron Eric de Rothschild and Saskia de Rothschild. They will also be treated to dinner in the Rothschild family’s private home at Lafite, hosted by Saskia or CEO Jean-Guillaume Prats.
The Bentley Flying Spur: One lucky couple will own one of the first 2020 sedans in the U.S. They’ll be flown to England in business class, spend three nights at London’s Connaught Hotel in Mayfair, and tour the Bentley production facility in Crewe, Cheshire.
One-Week Private Yacht Cruise for Four Couples: Cruise the Caribbean on the luxurious, 158-foot M/Y Gitana, along with 10 crew members to pamper you and a private chef to prepare meals. Private air transportation to the yacht is also included.
While we don’t know what sum these lots will bring, expectations are high based on last year’s results. A cruise through Southern Italy for four couples with the Darioush family sold for $400,000, and one week at the Tokyo Olympics for two couples went for $340,000. That level of generosity has transformed the festival into America’s leading charity wine event.