$12.19 million for the kids

Auction shatters last year's record raised for Collier children's charities

The tent shook, the crowd cheered, and the wine and money flowed as the Naples Winter Wine Festival shattered the charity wine auction sound barrier Sunday, raising $12.19 million in a single day, about $1 million more than last year.

"I'm absolutely blown away by the people's generosity," said Grace Evenstad, chairwoman of this year's event. "It's over the top."

The total brings to $38.8 million the amount the festival has raised in six years for Collier County's children's charities.

With all 70 lots sold and still $55,000 shy of last year's auction record, renowned chef Emeril Lagasse of Food Network fame donated a surprise lot. Dinner for 20, tasting truffles with him and Food Network chef Mario Batali, snagged an additional $240,000.

Hollywood notable Jane Seymour and TV's "Judge Judy" Sheindlin were among the 550 multimillionaire guests from around the world who drank and screamed and cheered and banged clackers with abandon at the Ritz-Carlton Golf Resort at Tiburon on Saturday. They tried to egg each other on to spend more, and more and more money for Collier County children's charities.

"You open up your hearts and you open up your wallets," said Shari Staglin, of Staglin Family Vineyards, the featured vintner, before the bidding started.

From the moment vintner Ann Colgin, of Colgin Cellars wine, took to the stage under the massive tent to begin auctioning off the first of 70 lots, the festival's circus theme took over.

"Come on, it's just money," Colgin teased as the wine began to flow and guests, some wearing 4-carat diamonds and Piaget watches, shared their booty.

By the time Colgin reached Lot 21, an all-expense paid weeklong Mediterranean yachting trip for five couples aboard Naples resident Michael DeGroote's 170-foot Feadship, the crowd was roaring. The lot included three 3-liter bottles of Gargiulo Vineyards wine, and the company of vintners Jeff Gargiulo and Valerie Boyd for the trip.

"That's the one I wanted," said Judge Judy, as she continually lifted her paddle into the air, almost reluctantly at the end, as though she were crossing some private line drawn in her own sand — money. Her face broke into a grin, dominated the four big-screen TVs as the $510,000 figure flashed on and off, on and off, threatening to disappear and take the yacht excursion with it.

The crowd roared. The pom poms shook, the noise from the clappers grew louder and louder. Across the room, Bruce Sherman, founder of the investment company Private Capital Management, pushed beyond Judge Judy's limits.

The screen flashed "520,000."

Colgin egged Judge Judy to break all boundaries and hit $530,000.

"Five thirty," Colgin coached the TV star, "Five thirty," she said again. "Isn't that the time your show comes on?"

But Sherman took her down with $520,000.

"It's a lot of fun," Judge Judy said, as she traipsed across the room to give her cousin a kiss. "Now we can paint the bottom of the boat," said her husband, Jerry Sheindlin. The Sheindlin family boat is a 150-foot yacht called "Her Honor," which still is docked in the Bahamas, where they just bought it. The bottom needs a paint job.

"It was spontaneous," said Sherman, claiming he didn't realize it was the judge he was competing against.

Guests jumped up, stood on tables and raised paddles in defiance, all the while shouting beneath 80 massive red, yellow, green and purple balloons that dangled from the ceiling of the big top erected on the lawn behind the Ritz. Situated beside the tent to tempt the spenders were a 2006 Ferrari F430 and a 2006 Bentley Continental Flying Spur. The Ferrari later went for $520,000 and the Bentley took in $440,000.

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More than 200 volunteers, most wearing colorful jester hats with flashing lights, ran around the room shaking red-yellow pom poms into the air and banging clappers.

Each table was covered with a striped tablecloth, with a centerpiece clown sculpture, looking much like a Hollywood Oscar statue. The clown was holding a half-full glass of wine in one hand and a tray with a wine bottle in the other. Each table had a dozen bottles of rare wine, the whites sitting in glass bowls of ice.

Soon Emeril started flashing his paddle for another seven-day trip to the Mediterranean for six couples aboard the Katherine, the 177-foot yacht decorated with French Impressionist art owned by Neapolitans Penny and Lee Anderson.

Once the bidding for Lot No. 35 hit $400,000, Emeril dropped out.

Tom Lund, a database marketing pioneer and who sold his Customer Development Corp. in 1998, stood his ground at $420,000. That's when Anderson offered to donate two trips, doubling the lot if each man would bid $420,000 a piece. Both agreed and when the gavel fell, Emeril kissed festival chairwoman Grace Evenstad and Anderson came over to shake his hand.

"Grace and Ken, we're going to have some fun for a bunch of people," Emeril said. "There's a bunch of us splitting it."

The double lot was the top grossing lot of the day.

The paddles flew when Lot No. 39 went on the block: a four-day trip for two aboard a private jet to New York City, tickets to "Emeril Live" and "Live with Regis and Kelly," and an art tour.

When the bids stalled around $150,000, the auctioneer paced and shouted into the microphone, "Would you like me to bring Emeril up on stage?"

The tent went wild.

"It's only money," Emeril egged on the crowd. "It's for the kids."

When the bidding hit $230,000, the celebrity chef offered to throw in dinner with him on his dime. "Yeah, Baby! Right there," Emeril shouted when he got the bid.

"If you give me $300,000, I'll have dinner with you in my underwear," Emeril shouted into the mic to screaming cheers.

Keeping her cool, Megan Foss, from Los Angeles, stood beside her companion, Jose Nazar, a Chilean entrepreneur and owner of Lexicon, the popular Spanish to English course.

Trustees Denise Cobb, a former CNN anchor, and Brian Cobb, owner of Cobb Corp. broadcasting group and donors of the lot, offered to double the package, so that both Foss and vintner Dan Duckhorn could win for twice the money.

The Double 39 went for a total $600,000.

Just to see what the already wealthy think when they buy something new, listen to this.

"This is what I want to base the wine cellar on," said an excited Simone Lutgert, after she and her husband, Scott, paid $180,000 for Lot 54, Vintners' Choice.

Frederick Furth, the California lawyer and vintner who is responsible for last year's top bid of $800,000 for a Rolls-Royce Phantom, shook up the bidding when he doubled the offer on his lot. Two bidders had volleyed and when they reached $160,000, Furth made his offer. The bidders agreed, pulling $320,000 for the lot, a double magnum of wine and a trip for four to his winery in Sonoma County, Calif.

There was no way trustee Denise Cobb was going to let auctioneer/vintner Ann Colgin's wines get away on Lot 24.

Brian Cobb left their table and took the paddle with him. That didn't stop Denise, who grabbed Judge Judy's paddle and started going head to head with Grace Evenstad, chairwoman of the event.

Cobb got the lot for $170,000, and was flanked by friends. Actress Jane Seymour gave her a hug, too.

"I didn't even know you did that," Brian Cobb said when he got back to the table. "Good job. How'd you do that without the paddle?" he said.

Brian Cobb joked, "I thought I could walk away and take the paddle and be safe." Denise Cobb said she felt like she got a bargain.

Steven and Cindy Mazda, part-time Fort Myers residents, hadn't planned to purchase any lots Saturday.

"We went a half a million over budget on the house we just built. That slowed us down a little," Steve said. But by the time Lot 37 was up and they had downed a few bottles of Cabernet, the resolve dissolved and they spent $60,000 on three 6-liter bottles of Chateau Margaux.

Commenting on the festival, Emeril said, "It's really an amazing event. They really show that it's one of the best in the country, if not the best."

© 2006 Naples Daily News. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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