Success is in the Naples Winter Wine Festival’s DNA – whether it’s the event’s density of self-made millionaires, world-class winemakers and top chefs, or simply the spectacular and record-breaking fundraising, success is the word. This year’s event again broke records, raising over $23 million. And, everything is being done to create even more success by funding the Naples Children & Education Foundation, an organization whose laser-like goal is to break the cycle of poverty.
Jay Rasmussen Senior Private Banker at BMO Wealth Management has lived in Naples for 21 years and has followed the trajectory of the auction since its inception in 2001. many retired entrepreneurs and CEOs, and when they started things they approached them as you would a business, providing expertise from all angles. It wasn’t going to be just a social event.
Founder and owner of Domaine Serene, Grace Evenstad, who is also a life trustee of the Naples Wine Festival, has attended every auction since its inception. When considering what makes it so special, she highlights the opportunities the event offers: “Every year, I meet chefs and winemakers from all over the world. It’s not often that we can all get together, plus the funds go to the kids who really need it.
When asked how they recruit so much world-class talent, longtime Wine Festival administrator Barbie Hills explains, “Winemakers love to be around winemakers and chefs love to be around chefs. They want to be among the best, people want to hang out with winners, and they want to support winners. It’s very good for their business and it ends up being good for our auction.
Which brings us back to success. There was a lot of success under the auction tent in Naples last January, from winemakers such as 25and generation Piero Antinori of Marchesi Antinori and Olivier Krug of Krug Champagne to the executives of Chanel, Bentley and FlexJet. The auction lot offerings included rare automobiles (a 2022 Bentley Flying Spur Mulliner, anyone?) or private yacht excursions through Croatia. Chefs such as recent Top Chef winner Joe Flamm have prepared elaborate dinners and a veritable squadron of master sommeliers have donated their time to festival events. Says Hills, “all of this together makes an amazing fundraiser possible.”
Despite the auction’s high-flying reputation and quality standards, it’s still a high-flying act for everyone involved. Donors such as legendary winemaker Dr. Laura Catena are as worried about the success of their lots as bidders are about winning the lot. On the day of the auction, wearing her signature beret, Catena is ready, “You have to pre-sell it,” she jokes, “I like to stand next to my land during the preview session and Tell people about it I want to excite them She must be doing something good, this year her prize was $280,000.
These countless efforts have a cumulative impact. The NCEF has helped more than 275,000 children through its investments in services such as early learning, health care, hunger, mental health and time out of school. The numbers tell the story; consider the graduation rate for migrant students in Collier County public schools – once a dismal 53% (2010) and more recently 88.9%, a whopping 35.9 percentage points increase. Ditto for students with disabilities, the graduation rate in 2010 was 48% and today it is 83.5%.
Numbers are always important, but the people behind the data are what really matters. The Festival’s annual Meet the Kids day is an opportunity to hear first-hand from recipients how the services supported by the auction and the NCEF have changed their lives. A young woman recounts growing up in a migrant family with no health care and limited resources. After enrolling in an NCEF-funded tutoring program in high school, she eventually got a full ride to college and now works as a human resources professional. “It’s the stories that move people,” Hills notes, “On Meet the Kids Day, people cry, men cry. It’s very powerful.
This year, the top deals have been impressive, ranging from $500,000 to $1.5 million, but the biggest numbers are: 270,000 kids served, $245 million raised since inception, 11 million meals and 38,000 pairs of glasses for children in need, and 44,000 children reached with access to quality learning.
Indeed, says Rasmussen, “The impact of this auction is everywhere. Just walk around town and you’ll see the many things this fundraiser has done.