The Interview: Andy Levine, DuVine Adventures
Andy Levine says that he created DuVine Adventures at his kitchen table with a website and a glass of wine in 1996. Fifteen years later, Levine has built the Boston-based DuVine into one of the leading biking companies in the US, offering wine-infused cycling trips to Italy and France, the Czech Republic and Argentina, not to mention Croatia, Utah and Napa/Sonoma. Levine is serious about the bikes he uses, about the wine his guests drink, and about the hotels where they sleep. He’s clearly doing something right. National Geographic Traveler singled out DuVine's Mendoza, Argentina trip as a Tours of a Lifetime in 2009 and National Geographic Adventure dubbed DuVine one of the Best Adventure Travel Outfitters for 2009. I recently had a chance to ask the perenially enthusiastic Levine about his company.
Andy, I like your new mailing piece, a spiral-bound catalog that's part calendar, part postcard collection, with lots of great color photos of castles, wine bottles and shiny, happy people on bikes. I even like the photo of you in the red Alpha Romeo. What's your background and how did you get into this business?
I am an adrenaline junkie. I love moving fast. I am not a fan of sitting still and I love competing. I am on a mission to learn every day, yet I fully understand the rewards of enjoying a peaceful moment in a gorgeous location.
I have always been a planner and producer. I have always loved putting on events and shows. I did it in college –bicycle races, film festivals and so on. Although during that time I never made a dime and usually lost money, I had a blast seeing people enjoy and connect. This laid the groundwork for my future. I wanted to bike around Europe and to be a stranger in a foreign country. While I was doing this, the internet started and I put up a website, simply wanting to share the love. Fifteen years later, with hard work and great people, we are making an impact in the travel industry and a major impact in the lives of our guests and our vendors. Never will I buy lists or trash my competition. I like my business like my food – organic, real and simple.
There are dozens of adventure travel companies out there. Why should someone consider DuVine for their next trip?
I am happy there are dozens of travel companies out there. Few are great, some are good and many, I plead the Fifth. We do not operate DuVine like a travel company because I have no idea what that means. Most travel companies to me seem like marketing companies, not artists. I dream about the great artists of our time: Picasso, Warhol, Matisse – how would they paint a trip and experience? All I know is how to create a trip and what options and sites make people say “Wow,” sit back, think and be thankful. We focus on the trip details from start to finish, from booking to returning home. Like a painter starting with a blank canvas. An adventurer should pick DuVine if they enjoy being a part of a painting, a lyric, and a community, all while receiving outstanding service while drinking wine and riding a bicycle.
Who goes on a DuVine trip?
Passionate real people. Travelers who want the best, but do not need to show off. People who enjoy value but want the top of the top. Lastly, travelers who enjoy being different. We love our guests and thank them daily, as our trips are about them, not us, not me, not a margin.
Say there's someone out there who's had a dreadful year — there are too many hands to count — and they desperately need to get away recharge. Where would you send them?
How are you dealing with price-sensitive clients in this tough economy?
Actually, we are a luxury operator offering real value, so we are finally in the sweet spot of the market place. I have never believed in charging inflated prices. From day one, we offered the best quality at more than the fairest price and that is winning for us.
What trips are popular right now?
Tuscany, Piedmonte, Provence, Mallorca, Napa, Croatia
Any new destinations for 2010?
Bike and boat the Croatia Dalmatian Coast, Secrets of Umbria, bike and hike Sicily/Aeolian Islands, a luxury ski trip to Switzerland, France and Italy.
Name a few of your favorite hotels of the moment.
In Italy, Hotel L’Ariana, room 23, on the Aeolian Islands; Bulgari Milano, 5th floor, Milan; Masseria Torre Maizza, a room with private pool, in Fasano, Puglia. In France, Le Mas de la Rose (the room with a ceiling window), Orgon, Provence: and the Hotel Murano (any king bed) in Tacoma Washington.
What can't you leave home without when you travel?
Blackberry and charger, Paul Smith pajamas bottoms, sunglasses, comfy pair of jeans, and bike shorts.
Where are you off to next?
Galapagos and Ecuador, Jordan, Aspen, Norway.
For more info, visit DuVine Adventures.