If you go
Wine Tasters of Naples’ Cheers for Charity event
What: A dinner, dance, live auction to benefit the Shelter for Abused Women & Children, St. Matthew’s House and Youth Haven
When: 6 to 10 p.m. today
Where: Players Club and Spa at Lely Resort, 8060 Grand Lely Drive, Naples
Information: 404-0254 or firstname.lastname@example.org
In Naples, exclusivity is currency. There are only so many spots at the Port Royal Club and you need so many million in the bank to get one.
So it isn’t surprising that there’s a 200-person-long waiting list to get into the Wine Tasters of Naples club.
What is eye-opening is that the people involved aren’t sipping $1,000 bottles of first-growth Bordeaux. They’re drinking stuff you can find at your neighborhood wine store.
On a recent afternoon, about 75 of the club’s 500 members gathered at Decanted, a wine shop off Pine Ridge Road in the Goodlette Crossings plaza, to sample reasonably priced wines and nosh on a decent spread of meats and cheeses.
Moving through the milling crowd was Dan Leaman, a local real estate agent and the club’s founder. Leaman was wearing one of those bright, floral-print shirts that only tourists and self-declared beach bums can pull off. Everyone calls him Danno. He works the crowd like a consummate salesman, slapping backs and sharing laughs.
Leaman started the club two years ago with a handful of friends. The first gathering had 17 people.
“We were just looking to have fun and try wine,” he says. “I had no idea it would turn out like this.”
Now he’s turning people away. Not that he wants to. In his perfect world anyone who showed interest in joining would be on the list. But his venues have physical limitations.
“We’re doing this at people’s houses,” he says. “Even the houses at Mediterra only have so many people they can hold. We have to cut the (guest) list off at 100 people.”
The events all follow the same basic game plan. Everyone brings a bottle of wine to share, plus either a main dish, side or dessert. The result is sort of like the ultimate pot luck, with occasionally stunning vistas. Last month the group met at the rooftop pool deck at Mercato. They’ve had parties all over the greater Naples area.
While wine is the main reason for the gathering, it often takes a back seat to what the parties are really all about — meeting people, making new friends and sharing interests.
Sherri Weidmann moved to Naples in the past year. A retired executive of a nonprofit in Indiana, Weidmann was looking for volunteer and networking opportunities.
“One of the organizations I kept hearing about was Wine Tasters of Naples,” said Weidmann, who now acts as the group’s unofficial spokeswoman. “I heard that it was a very active club... and that it had, as one of its purposes, to raise money for deserving charities.”
Although there was a pretty long waiting list when she signed up, Weidmann found a way in pretty quickly. First, she bought a ticket to the club’s inaugural Cheers for Charity event, which will celebrate its second year this weekend. Second, she showed enthusiasm for the charity work.
“It’s 100 percent volunteer-driven, so doers are always needed,” she said. “There’s always movement, so there is no reason for anyone to feel that you won’t get in if you really want to help and participate in the activities.”
Weidmann admits to not being much of an oenophile and that the social interactions in the club are the real draw.
“But I’m learning a little bit about wine too,” she said.
Those words are music to Leaman’s ears. He never set out to create some sort of snooty society that debated the merits of vineyards or vintages. His goal was to meet people, have a good time and raise a little money for charity along the way. So far the group has raised close to $50,000. And that’s just the charity portion, which as gone to nonprofits such as Shelter for Abused Women & Children, St. Matthew’s House and Youth Haven.
“We’re also here to support local businesses,” Leaman said as he surveyed the crowd at Decanted.
From the number of people jammed in the small store, it seems like that mission is being accomplished, too.