‘Irrational generosity’: Naples Winter Wine Festival raises more than $20 million

Wine bottles in a rowTo call the 20th Naples Winter Wine Festival at The Ritz-Carlton Golf Resort in Naples a celebration would not quite capture the fundraiser’s atmosphere.

And with an unofficial fundraising total exceeding $20 million, the outpouring of cheer makes sense. As one of the festival’s founders and trustees Valerie Gargiulo said, the tone of the event is one of “irrational generosity.”

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“It’s not about what (bidders) are getting,” she said. “It’s about what they’re going to do for the children.”

Jeff Gargiulo, Valerie’s husband, are both founders and trustees of the Naples Winter Wine Festival and Naples Children and Education Foundation. In the festival’s 20 years, the couple said, it’s grown tremendously. And, prior to the auction, they hoped to break a fundraising milestone of $200 million since the festival’s conception.

With the help of auction lots and the generosity of those attending the auction, they succeeded.

The 20th Naples Winter Wine Festival followed the theme of “Celebrate: 20 Years of Cheers.” It was a multi-day affair, beginning Thursday with a pre-festival wine tasting and luncheon, moving to Friday with a meet-the-kids day and peaking with a live-auction Saturday before ending with a celebration brunch Sunday.

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The tone of celebration was evident: chandeliers dangled from an air-conditioned enclosed tent full of tables for more than 700 guests. Tablecloths ranged from teals to greens to layered with purple sequins, while live music and cuisine like a tuna and watermelon Dashi with an avocado jalapeno salsa delighted guests.

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