The Southwest Florida Wine and Food Fest celebrated its 10th anniversary in style earlier this month, raising nearly $2.6 million for charities focused on children and education, with more than $1.5 million of that coming from live-auction bids.
While these numbers were shy of last year's $3.2 million total, auction co-chair Elaine Hawkins still considers it a success. "Raising a couple million dollars in an afternoon is not small potatoes," Hawkins told Wine Spectator. "Overall, it's still a great day to be able to raise that kind of money, and a lot of the people who attended were repeat people who have come for many, many years and continue to give."
It was a weekend defined by perfect weather and by celebrating the past while looking toward the future. Organizers marked the anniversary by handing out wine bottle–shaped medals to donors who have given $100,000, $50,000, or $25,000 over the past 10 years. Guests dined on food from leading chefs, including Thomas Raquel of New York’s Le Bernardin, a Wine Spectator Best of Award of Excellence winner.
But there were also changes. The auction shifted venues for the first time in nine years, moving to Quail West Golf and Country Club in North Naples. And in addition to the usual beneficiaries—Golisano Children's Hospital, Florida Gulf Coast University and Florida SouthWestern State College—the grant committee decided to donate 10 percent of the auction's total proceeds to four new organizations: the PACE Center for Girls of Lee County, the local Ronald McDonald charity, SalusCare and the Heights Foundation, which all align with the auction's mission to support children's health and education.
"There's lots of people in this community that are very philanthropic," Hawkins said. "So we wanted to be a little bit more all-inclusive."
The auction's group of trustees also decided to donate personal funds of $110,000 to vintners in the Sonoma and Napa Valley areas that were badly affected by last October's wildfires. "[These vintners] are truly not just our wine providers, but they have become our personal friends," Hawkins said. "We wanted to show our support for them, because they have supported us all these years."
Some auction lots focused on the theme of supporting children, like the child-art collection that sold for $170,000, featuring original paintings from a five-year-old cancer patient and his supportive older brother. The annual fund-a-cause lot, dedicated this year to supporting children's cancer treatment at Golisano Children's Hospital, raised $637,750.
The Spire Collection lot, presented by Barbara Banke of Jackson Family Wines, the event's Honored Signature Vintner, sold twice for $100,000 a piece. It included a four-person, three-night stay at Lokoya Villa, a tasting with Lokoya winemaker Chris Carpenter and dinner at the French Laundry. A wine tasting and five-course food pairing for 40 guests with celebrity chef Dino Gatto or Michael Lanza of New York's Rao's sold for $100,000.
But Hawkins says the true heart of the auction is the special attention to children's stories that creates a unique emotional element every year. For auction guests, those stories inspired a day of giving back.