By Harriet Howard Heithaus
The Naples Winter Wine Festival is getting bigger — even though it’s already the biggest.
On the heels of once again being rated the No. 1 charity wine auction in the U.S. by Wine Spectator magazine, the festival is announcing its chairs for the 2017 festival, for the first time to be shared by four couples.
The extravagant Naples event has topped the list for 10 of the past 15 years.
“In 2015, the Naples festival once again overtook the 2014 leader, Auction Napa Valley,” Samantha Falewée wrote in an article in the magazine’s upcoming April 30 edition.
“The ranking is based on total live auction — bid earnings, excluding paddle raise or fund-a-need lots,” Falewée wrote.
The 2016 rankings will be announced in 2017, after all wine festivals for this year are completed.
The Southwest Florida Wine & Food Fest, based in Lee County, was judged fourth in that ranking, just behind the Sonoma Harvest Wine Auction.
The top six charity wine auction nets were split among events in California, which grows almost all the wine grapes in the U.S. (89 percent in 2013, the last year for which statistics were available), and Florida (less than 2 percent that year).
The 2017 Naples Winter Wine Festival is set for Jan. 27-29, again at The Ritz-Carlton Golf Resort in North Naples, according to a news release from the organization, which announced the four couple chairmanship. Three of the couples are veterans, and three members of those couples have served as chairmen:
- Jeff Gargiulo, chairman for the founding year, and his wife, Valerie Boyd. They are owners of Gargiulo Vineyards in Oakville, in the Napa Valley, and split their time between Florida and California. The two have supported the festival
- Brian Cobb, who was second chairman of the festival in 2002, and his wife, Denise, who has been the longtime chairwoman of the public relations committee. Both have had careers in the broadcast industry, she as one of the original anchorwomen of CNN, and he as founder of CobbCorp, involved in the brokerage of TV stations.
- Scott Lutgert, fifth chairman of the festival, and his wife, Simone, who has served as auction day co-chair and marketing and creative director. The Lutgert family has been involved extensively in real estate development in Southwest Florida, developing golf course communities, beachfront high-rises, shopping centers, office buildings and mixed-use properties.
- Debra and Bill Cary, who first attended the Naples Winter Wine Festival in 2013 and became supporters, joining as trustees in 2015. Retired as president and CEO of GE Capital, he now is a director of Synchrony Financial and Rush Enterprises. She is a former community banker and has been active in philanthropy, currently serving on the Naples Children & Education Foundation grant committee.
“The very first Naples Winter Wine Festival grew out of a conversation in our backyard with several friends who shared a passion for wine and a desire to make a difference in our community,” Gargiulo said in a statement from the festival.
“Since then, the festival has grown into a globally recognized event, but it has still maintained its intimate format,” Gargiulo said.
A statement from Simone Lutgert said the expanded number of chairs were in hopes to “push the envelope even further and elevate the excitement” in 2017.
“With the addition of a relatively new couple, who bring a fresh perspective to planning this event, we can’t wait to unveil what’s in store,” she added.
The 2017 co-chairs selected “Bright Sunshiny Day” as the festival’s theme, with its aim as “shining a light on the needs of underprivileged, at-risk children.”
Since it began in 2001, the festival reported, it has raised more than $146 million for its founding organization, the Naples Children & Education Foundation. The NCEF has awarded grants to more than 40 nonprofit organizations that have affected the lives of more than 200,000 children.
Ticket packages to the event start at $10,000 per couple.