Close this search box.

Log in

Top Stories

Raising a record-breaking amount exceeding $33 million during its live auction over the weekend, the Naples Winter Wine Festival lived up to its 2024 flowery theme, proving that generosity indeed is in full bloom in Collier County.

“It was really abnormal irrational generosity,” said Rick Germain, chairman of the board for Naples Children & Education Foundation, the founding organization of the festival. “We started seeing lots going for a lot more than we expected. We knew we were kind of getting on a roll and it was going to be a good day. … We broke every single record that this auction has ever had.”

Not only did the 50 luxurious lots at the annual auction under the tent at The Ritz-Carlton Naples, Tiburón surpass last year’s record of $25.6 million, but the $2.7 million bid for a seven-night Mediterranean superyacht cruise for six couples set an all-time record for a single auction lot. The previous top bid for a single lot was $2 million for a Rolls-Royce Phantom Coupe in 2007.

Ralph and Shelly Stayer, chairs of this year’s festival, were among the three couples who won the trip on the motor yacht Whisper, formerly named Kismet. Both Stayers independently predicted before the auction that the lot with the 312-foot superyacht, with an intimate cruise donated by its former owner, Naples billionaire Shahid Khan, and its current owner, Eric Schmidt, would be the top lot.

Khan, the richest man in Southwest Florida and the owner of the Jacksonville Jaguars, attended a Friday night dinner and the Saturday auction for the wine festival.

“He was very gracious to donate a superyacht, one of the biggest and best in the entire world. It won all the prizes,” Ralph Stayer said.

The real winners, of course, are the kids. All proceeds of the nearly $302 million raised since the wine festival’s inception in 2001 support more than 300,000 at-risk and underprivileged children in Collier County through services and resources from about 90 nonprofit organizations. From the funds raised at this year’s auctions, NCEF will award grants March 18 to local organizations and fund strategic initiatives supporting community children in need.

The second highest bid at this year’s live auction was for a car, but not just any car, of course. The $1.4 million bid was enough for Onur Haytac to drive away in a 2024 Rolls-Royce Spectre, the automaker’s inaugural all-electric vehicle and the only one of its kind to be auctioned off this year in the United States. The founder and president of Naples-based Linga restaurant operating system, Haytac collects cars and races Ferraris competitively.

“I’m all about cars, but this one is a special one. It’s a great car,” Haytac said.

Other lots garnering the highest donations include two dinner events where 40 couples each gave $25,000 for a million-dollar meal—with notable wines, of course. The one-of-a-kind events will be at The Continental in downtown Naples and at Chef Thomas Keller’s The Surf Club Restaurant at the Four Seasons Hotel in Surfside, Florida.

Two other lots brought in $800,000 each. Four couples will join hosts Kelley and Jim Bailey, proprietors of Knights Bridge Winery in Sonoma County, California, for eight nights cruising the islands of Croatia. Another lot—Unbelievably Utah—will take three couples or six individuals to Salt Lake City, where they will spend a week in the luxurious 7,000-square-foot Deer Valley penthouse owned by the Stayers.

Shelly Stayer shares some of the science behind the success of this year’s wine festival.

“Ralph and I are data-driven in our business, so this year we decided to use data to create the 50 auction lots,” Stayer said. “Who was buying in the past years? What do they want? Where do they want to go? So, we used data as our friend this year and we curated the auction items that we hoped they wanted to buy. We surveyed the trustees. We surveyed the people under the tent,and we asked them, ‘What are your interests?’”

The Stayers thank the many trustees, staff and volunteers who made the event a success.

“This was work but it was fun. We enjoyed every minute. We worked with wonderful people who helped us. We didn’t know much about it, so we got a lot of people who did and together we had a great team,” said Ralph Stayer, owner of Johnsonville sausage company. “At Johnsonville, we have a saying: We work as a team, we win as a team.”

Another opportunity for giving continues this week with more than 100 lots in the NWWF online auction at

“So many great lots are still available,” said NCEF trustee Kelley Bailey. “The auction is going to go until Tuesday at 5 o’clock. Bid high, bid often—there are still more kids, as we like to say.”

“We’ve broken all the records and we’re hoping that we break another record for the online auction.”

See a list of all the live auction lots and their winning bids at

Silver celebration next year

The 25th annual Naples Winter Wine Festival live auction will be soundly celebrated on Jan. 25, 2025. The silver anniversary event will be chaired by a team that includes many previous chairs of the local wine festival over the years.

NCEF trustee Jeff Gargiulo said it’s time to look forward to ensure that the success for the festival continues for the next 25 years.

“None of us 25 years ago could have imagined where we would be today,” Gargiulo said. “But next year is the 25th and it’s time to celebrate and to congratulate all of us for a quarter of a century of achievement for the kids. To celebrate this dedicated work, we have to thank many people. There have been chefs, vintners, trustees, staff, volunteers—many people involved with this. It’s not about one individual. It’s about all of us collectively.”

The committee of 2025 chairs is comprised of Nena and Bill Beynon, Debbi and Bill Cary, Denise and Brian Cobb, Shirlene Elkins, Valerie Boyd and Jeff Gargiulo, Libby and Rick Germain, Julia and Rob Heidt Jr., Barbie and Paul Hills, and Simone and Scott Lutgert.

“We will ask all of you for all of your resources, your ideas, your talent, your cheers and your money,” Gargiulo told the attendees of the celebration brunch on Sunday. “Let’s all raise a glass with great enthusiasm and stand up for the 2025 (event).”

Copyright 2024 Gulfshore Life Media, LLC All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without prior written consent.

Don't Miss

Please enable JavaScript in your browser to complete this form.

Please note that article corrections should be submitted for grammar or syntax issues.

If you have other concerns about the content of this article, please submit a news tip.