Many people still think of wine lovers as aloof and snobby, which is a gross misconception because I’m a wine lover and I’m neither.

But it’s not often we associate wine lovers with charity.

Well maybe it’s time we do. Especially when the wine can help people in need.

 The Naples Winter Wine Festival has become one of the nation's most successful charity wine and food events. Since 2001, the festival has raised a total of $94.5 million for the Naples Children & Education Foundation (NCEF), which supports underprivileged and at-risk children in Collier County, Fla.

The NCEF was established in 2001 by a group of 18 families in Naples, Fla., to make a difference in the lives of children in Collier County. The founders created the Naples Winter Wine Festival as a way to leverage their passion for wine to meet NCEF's mission to support programs that improve the physical, emotional and educational lives of underprivileged and at-risk children.

The 2012 festival will take place Jan. 27-29 at the Ritz Carlton Golf Resort in Naples.

Tickets are still available, though by no means cheap. Tickets to the three-day event run about $8,500 a couple – and they haven’t even bid on a bottle of wine yet. But 600 people are expected, wines from all over the world will be auctioned, and celebrity chefs are going to prepare wine-pairing dinners.

Bruce Nichols, a wine consultant for the festival, is hoping they beat the $12 million raised last year.

But if this event is too rich for your palate, consider just buying a bottle of wine that sends part of its proceeds to charity or look for local charitable wine events in your area. 

What could be better than trying new wines and helping people at the same time?

That’s quite a cocktail.

Cent ‘Anni.

Questions for Our Wine Pro

What is your death row wine? 

Interesting question. I often get asked "What is your favorite wine?" My response, somewhat tongue-in-cheek, is always, " the one I'm drinking now!" But to answer your question, as much as I salivate over First-Growth Bordeaux - I recently had an amazing 1975 Château La Mission Haut-Brion, a wine that is 35 years old and still drinking beautifully, my tastes run to Burgundy, red and white. A few months back I had a 2005 Joseph Drouhin Musigny that was close to a religious experience. I just hope I can hang around for another decade or two when it's really in its prime.

What region produces the best wine?

I probably just answered that, but let me say that my wine roots definitely are in Northern California wine country. Somewhere though many California wineries seemed to have lost their way, producing over-ripe, over-alcoholic wines. The good news is that the pendulum is definitely swinging to wines  that are more dimensional, more nuanced. Ask me this question a year, or two years, from now and I may have a very different answer!

What is the best wine and food pairing you’ve ever had?

On a trek through France's Loire Valley a few years ago, I was hoping to shoot a huge hole in that quintessential food and wine pairing of goat cheese and Sauvignon Blanc. I failed, and I failed miserably! Little wheels of fresh goat cheese from Dubois-Boulay of Chavignol, a warm baguette, and a bottle of Didier Dagueneau's Pur Sang Pouilly-Fumé is a gastronomic memory I'll take to my grave.

What will the U.S. wine industry look like in 10 years?

I definitely think that California wines will gain a much greater international position as alcohol and the steroidal ripeness of recent years levels off. Wine consumers worldwide will recognize the meteoric rise in quality coming out of Southern Italy, particularly Sicily. And young Spanish producers like Telmo Rodríquez, are clearly demonstrating how quality over quantity is the right direction to take that country's wines.