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Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Lifestyles of the Rich: Naples Winter Wine Festival

How much would you pay to have dinner with Robert Redford? What would you kick in for a walk on roll in Grey's Anatomy? How much is it worth to you to be the first person in the United States to own the new Rolls Royce convertible? What if all of the money was going to charity?

I have been to a few charity wine auctions and we used to attend several fundraisers in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., during thoroughbred season, but the Naples Winter Wine Festival is in a very different league. All of the money raised during the Jan. 26-28 event goes to help the Naples Children and Education Foundation. Last year the event generated $12.2 million. More than $40 million has gone to charities since the festival was established in 2001.

You need to be wealthy, connected and lucky to even attend the Naples Festival. There are just 550 tickets and the event attracts not only the extremely wealthy residents along Florida's Gulf Coast, but wine enthusiasts from across America and internationally. Depending on what parts of the event you attend, tickets range from $7,500 for a couple to a four pack of seats for $20,000. If you want to have a private wine tasting with wine guru Robert M. Parker Jr. that will be extra. There are 71 lots in the auction, each one would be the star of most other charity events.

If the Rolls Royce convertible is not your style, how about a 2007 Bentley Continental Grand Touring Convertible; a 2008 Lexus LS 600h L hybrid sedan; or a custom 2007 Naples Winter Wine Festival Maserati Quattroporte? If driving is not your thing, you can bid on a two year lease of a Hawker 800-XP private jet.

If the Oscar winning Redford is not your favorite celebrity, how about breakfast at Martha Stewart's home along the New York-Connecticut border followed by a private jet ride to her Maine vacation property for lunch?

The seventh event at the Ritz-Carlton Golf Resort also has plenty of interesting wine up for collector bids. Big bottles are always popular at wine auctions. At the Naples event you can compete to buy a three-liter bottle of 1996 Screaming Eagle or a three-liter bottle of 1947 Chateau Cheval Blanc. There are wine related trips to California, Burgundy, Tuscany and Argentina, to go along with golf trips to Scotland and shopping sprees in New York City.

While it may all sound a bit over the top, the reality is that it is a fun way to separate some rich folks from a small piece of their fortunes to support a good cause. The Naples Children and Education Foundation funds programs to help underprivileged and at-risk children in Collier County, Florida.

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