Two decades ago, a group of local philanthropists in Naples got together with the common goal of helping underprivileged and at-risk youth. What the founding trustees of the Naples Winter Wine Festival probably didn’t realize at the time, however, was that their brainchild would become the top wine charity event in the world, raising more than $191 million to date for children in need through the Naples Children & Education Foundation.
For the twentieth anniversary of the festival, held on the Paradise Coast January 24-26, the trustees have assembled a group of vintners who represent a unique blend of established icons and emerging stars, all of whom will be paired with a celebrity chef for the series of dinners on Friday evening. This year’s honored vintner is Saskia de Rothschild, who became chairwoman of Domaines Barons de Rothschild in 2018 at the age of 31. Her empire consists of some of the world’s greatest wine estates, including Château Lafite Rothschild and Duhart-Milon (Pauillac), L’Évangile (Pomerol), and Rieussec (Sauternes).
A former journalist, she joined the DBR Board in 2008 and trained in the technical aspects of viticulture over six vintages. For her winemaker dinner, she wants to create a dialogue with attendees, with the aim of making the event more interactive and enjoyable. She believes her age will be an advantage in accomplishing that goal.
“Bordeaux has an image of being dusty and old-fashioned,” she says. “For my generation, it’s rare to go to a dinner party and see a bottle of Bordeaux on the table. I try to counter that image by being an ambassador for the region, talking to sommeliers and presenting a more humble and open aspect of a wine estate.”
Another next-gen vintner in attendance this year will be Will Harlan, who had not yet been born when his father founded Harlan Estate in 1984. He’ll represent the family’s newest venture, Promontory, located in a remote and isolated section of Oakville. As scarce as Harlan Estate and nearly as expensive ($850 per bottle), Promontory’s Cabernet-dominated Bordeaux blend has caught the attention of the wine world since it first appeared in 2008.
Harlan isn’t the only scion of a famous winemaking family taking part in the festival this time around. Shannon Staglin, daughter of Shari and Garen Staglin and president of Staglin Family Vineyards, will present the estate’s distinctive bottlings from the Rutherford Bench. Siblings Eve and Erwan Faiveley, the seventh generation at Domaine Faiveley, embody the best of Burgundy.
The new emphasis on youth doesn’t mean that the old guard is extinct. Luminaries such as Piero Antinori, Barbara Banke, and Olivier Krug will highlight the very best of Tuscany, California, and Champagne. As always, there is a delicate balance between vintners from the old and new worlds.
For the twentieth anniversary, the festival’s trustees have assembled 20 Master Sommeliers who will supervise wine service at the vintner dinners and also enhance the guest experience at Saturday’s live auction. In all, it’s a remarkable lineup of wine talent and a testament to the efforts of the vintners, chefs, and organizers. Even more significant is the fact that all proceeds are passed directly to recipients. If you’re growing up poor in Immokalee, the event’s passionate excess will translate to a scholarship, vaccination, or badly needed pair of eyeglasses.