|A toast-worthy time|
The Southwest Florida Wine & Food Fest promises memorable food and wine for worthwhile causes.
Meet the private dinner hosts that are new this year.
Michael & Helene Hall
For the first time, a chef-vintner dinner will lay claim to Captiva Island.
Helene and Michael Hall, first-time hosts for the Southwest Florida Wine & Food Fest, have accepted the challenge of throwing a party guests are sure to remember.
"We're going to have fire dancers and we have a lot of crystal in the house, and our house is on the Gulf so it's going to bring in that feeling of ice;
ice and fire,"
Along with the fire dancers performing their art on the deck of their infinity pool, the menu from chef Tim Duque of South Seas Island Resort will delight
their 50 dinner guests. His courses will be paired with wines from Benovia winery in
The event is designed to be memorable and exciting, but the Halls have a focused goal, to raise $1,500 a guest to benefit the Golisano Children's Hospital of Southwest Florida.
The couple have supported the hospital for the last 10 years through SanCap Cares.
"We've been very blessed," she said. "We're very lucky and we like to give back.
"It's very difficult when you know a child is ill and they need to be shipped to Tampa or Miami; it's very difficult on the family."
Brian & Sonya Sawyer with Nannette Staropoli
Sonya Sawyer and her husband, Brian, aren't new to the Southwest Florida Wine & Food Fest, but they will host a chef-vintner dinner for the first time along with Nannette Staropoli, owner of MARKIT Group in Naples.
"To me, it's always a bonus to be able to host a fabulous party and plan it with a best girlfriend," Nannette said. "Since we both love Paris, it only seemed natural to have a midnight in Paris theme."
Armed with the help of Shiraz Events, the hosts will work to create some sparkle and light throughout their venue, Vyne House in Talis Park, and offer dancing under the stars on the grand lawn. They're leaving it up to guests whether they'd like to dress contemporary or vintage Parisian, although it is black tie.
While the dinners are traditionally held in a home, their chef Andrew Hunter of The Bay House will have a full kitchen to create the courses he'll pair with wines from Talley Vineyards, who is also new to the Wine Fest.
Along with the fun, Staropoli and the Sawyers are excited to become more involved in raising funds for a local children's hospital and recognize the need.
The Sawyers have had firsthand experience with traveling out of area for medical attention. In 2006, a year after their 9-year-old son Brandon was born, the family took him to see a pediatric urologist for surgery in Tampa.
"I work for Home-Tech and we've contributed to the capital campaign," Sonya said. "We just felt that this area is in dire need of a great children's hospital and as parents of young children we want to support it."
Art & Bev Cherry
As first-time hosts several things struck Bev and Art Cherry about the complexities of a vintner dinner for the Southwest Florida Wine & Food Fest.
There is the incredible outpouring of support for this charity and the young people it aids. There are the emotional tales of the infants and children who have benefitted from the millions of dollars raised.
And then there are the wine glasses.
"The sheer number you need," Bev laughed. "You start with the Champagne and then there are wine pairings with each of the courses, so at the table alone, you're looking at six to eight glasses at each setting."
Multiply that by the 30 guests these retired bankers are preparing to host at their home in Naples, and that's a lot of stemware – fitting for a dinner themed, "Napa to Naples."
The evening is, of course, about much more than the 256 glasses that could be set out. The Cherrys will be welcoming several first-time Wine & Food Fest attendees to their dinner, with the goal of broadening the event's reach.
"It's a very a nice introduction to a wonderful charity," Art said. "It's the Pied Piper. The more people you can get on board, the more people they bring with them – and that's good for everyone."
Brian & Denise Cobb with Valerie & Jeff Gargiulo
While the Cobbs and Gargiulos are first-time hosts for the Southwest Florida Wine & Food Fest, the vintner-dinner format isn't new to them.
"My husband and I along with Valerie and Jeff are founding trustees of the Naples Winter Wine Festival," Denise said, "so we believe in wine and philanthropy."
The Gargiulos will be featuring selections from their winery, Gargiulo Vineyards, in Oakville, Calif. at the Cobbs' home in Naples. Their dinner theme
is "Venice on the Canal." The couples will team with Chef Jeremy Houston of The
The Cobbs have hosted 14 vintner dinners as trustees with the Naples wine festival, so they're hoping for a calm, relaxing evening with close friends come Feb. 27 – relaxing to the spirit, and the purse strings.
"This is the dressing before the event, so we can pick their pockets the next day," Denise laughed. "It's important to have the food and wine, but also to explain why we're there, where the money goes, and to show people this is all for a great cause."