Weekend charity wine auctions raise millions

A 12-liter bottle of Screaming Eagle sold for $500,000 at an auction last year.
A 12-liter bottle of Screaming Eagle sold for $500,000 at an auction last year.

Anyone can show up at a wine auction and bid on the best vino. But a new wine-buying trend is emerging, one far more immersive, expensive and exclusive than simply strolling into Christie’s.

The New York Times reports that hosts are opening up their fancy schmancy kitchens to top chefs who will cook dinner for a private crowd as part of the charity wine auction experience. The intimate affairs, of course, include a wine tasting, topped off by a rousing round of bidding of various high-end luxury items.

Unlike a typical wine auction, entrance to this type of wining and dining event will cost a bundle in itself. Recently, as part of the the 16th Naples Winter Wine Festival, 40 couples “paid $10,000 for the weekend or $25,000 for two couples who sought to be seated at the same private dinner on Friday.” This price also include a Saturday night auction and (hopefully, boozy) Sunday brunch.

Some of the more outstanding items up for bid have included a Rolls Royce Phantom Coupe — equipped with a custom wine cellar in the trunk. That was auctioned off in 2007 for a whopping $2 million dollars (when it could have been purchased for only $500,000).

For those not into cars, auctions often include unique experiences such as “four tickets to the Masters golf tournament, including a private dinner with the golf legend Gary Player and private jet travel to and from Augusta, Ga. Another is a 14-day trip around Europe on a private jet that holds 15 people. Then, there is the opportunity to watch a Dallas Cowboys football game with the owner, Jerry Jones.”

16th Naples Winter Wine Festival
16th Naples Winter Wine Festival ( Corey Perrine/Naples Daily News)

And let’s not forget the real star of these events – the wine! The president and chief executive of Auction Napa Valley, Linda Reiff, said a 12-liter bottle of Screaming Eagle, the largest size made of the cult, limited-production cabernet sauvignon, sold for $500,000 at the auction last year.

Lest you think these events are nothing more than party weekends, think again. They are also being held to help the poorer residents in otherwise wealthy communities and are often used to make up for the lack of tax dollars spent by specific counties.

Similar to the auction held in Napa, the Naples event focuses on charities to help children and women in the community. Last year alone the festival raised $12.3 million and since 2001, $135 million.

“The one thing that was important was to make a profound difference in the lives of the children in Collier County,” said Valerie Gargiulo, a trustee of the wine festival and vice chairwoman of the grant committee at the Naples Children and Education Foundation, which distributes all the money raised. “The wine auction became our vehicle. We knew that if we had the wine and the great chefs coming, we could attract people.”

Food, frivolity and philanthropy certainly sounds like a winning combo. We can all drink to that!