Interview with Andrew Villone Founder of Savor the Experience Tours

Photo by Luka Esenko

“I’m always looking for new places. I think it’s really hard to not get good wine, so at the end of the day I don’t make my decisions based just on the wine. The main thing is really the story. What’s your story? ”

Andrew’s been leading his unique brand of tours to Slovenia, Croatia and the Balkans since 2005. Inspired by his backpack travels, he decided to create a better way of travelling where small groups (2-8 people) could have a more authentic experience, spending time with locals and seeing many of the hidden gems that got left off other tours. At the urging of his guests he’s begun focusing on culinary tours, which offer terrific food and wine, an insight into local traditions, slow food philosophy and a chance to meet with food producers, chefs and winemakers. In 2014, he moved from the US to Slovenia with his family.

Photo by Luka Esenko

What are your guests most surprised by?

Well, it goes without saying that there are so many great winemakers and so much great wine here, that you really have to mess up to choose something bad. So everyone assumes the wine is great. I think what they’re most surprised by is the food pairing with the wine, and the food itself. I mean Slovene wines aren’t so common in the US, but they’re still a lot easier to get there than Slovene food.

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And what do they like the most?

People are amazed that you can spend two or three hours or sometimes a whole day with the winemaker. And it’s the actual winemaker himself, not just some employee. A lot of my guests from Australia and the States and they’re used to going on wine tours, but in Napa Valley you’d never meet the winemakers, let alone get invited into their house or cellar or for a personal tour of their vineyards. In Slovenia you really get this very personal connection, which people love.

 

Where do you take guests on your tours?

Well, I’m biased, so I spend most of my time in Primorska, there are a lot of the other attractions nearby, and Istria is also close. If you can go to two countries in a week or ten days it’s great. So most of the time I’ve been doing these tours I would’ve said that Brda is tops for everything. But in the last year or so I think Vipava has really caught up or even surpassed them in terms of wines. Brda is still special and the landscape is maybe more picturesque, but in Vipava there are so many good wineries now.

And what does a typical day of wine tasting entail?

My guests like the fact that you don’t need to go to five wineries in a day, you can just go to two. If you do more than three it’s probably not going to work, because you always end up spending more time and tasting more wines. They tell you five and then it’s eight or nine, and then they’re like ‘Oh, do you wanna try this?’ and ‘Oh, I got this special thing you have to try!’.

Has anything changed in the last five or six years?

There are a lot more wineries that have regular fixed working hours, although it’s still not a majority. And a lot more are focused on wine tourism, in terms of what they’re offering, how they’re promoting themselves. Certainly there are a lot more dining options.

 

How do you choose which winemakers to visit?

A lot of the ones I visit now I first discovered when I was starting out, and they also got great feedback from my guests, so those ones have kind of become the bedrock of my tours.

 

How do you find new destinations?

Award-winning vintages, eccentric winemakers, charming villages, castle wine tastings, fairy tale vineyard weddings, unforgettable tours and much more.

I’m always looking for new places. I think it’s really hard to not get good wine, so at the end of the day I don’t make my decisions based just on the wine. The main thing is really the story. What’s your story? Do you have an interesting tasting room or something kind of different? And also the food, and then of course the availability.

 

What makes a good story?

A lot just depends on the person, how open they are. It’s not always about the wine. Some winemakers will tell you about the business side of things, which I find fascinating. I once had a guest who after two hours of talking to the winemaker was interested in investing in the winery. Sometimes people have a story that actually sounds like a movie or something. And you’re like, ‘Shit, I wouldn’t believe that if it wasn’t a true. Wow, that’s kind of crazy.’ So that definitely makes a good story.