When planning and creating an itinerary for a Willamette Valley wine tour, deciding between self-guided vs. guided winery tours can be challenging. On the one hand, the self-guided tour offers more flexibility and affordability. However, a guided tour provides the opportunity to learn about the wines and wineries that may not be noted on the winery website. Below, we explore the pros and cons of each option to help you select the best choice for you and your group.
What’s the Difference Between Self-Guided Vs. Guided Winery Tours in Willamette Valley?
A self-guided tour entails you (or another group member/loved one) planning an itinerary through the Willamette Valley wine region. Typically, this planning consists of deciding which wineries to visit, transportation between the vineyards, budgeting for tasting room fees, finding meals, etc. In contrast, a wine tour company will have all the details in place, often including transport between vineyards via bus or another method. Simply put, a self-guided tour means you’ll make all the decisions, while a guided wine tour is pre-planned by a company or guide.
Self-Guided Wine Tour Pros
1. Flexibility on Schedule
When creating self-guided tours, you have ultimate control over the schedule. Perhaps the day prior was quite busy, and you want a later start than planned. With a self-guided wine tour, you can simply alert your activity partners and begin your vineyard exploration and taste wine at a later time. Additionally, you can schedule breaks for meals, snacks, or sightseeing wherever you please in your itinerary.
2. Wineries of Your Choosing
As mentioned above, creating your own winery itinerary allows you to select your top wineries and vineyards. Perhaps you have a few in mind that are located further apart. With a self-guided tour, you can visit your top choices, regardless of distance.
3. Lower Price Point
Usually, going on self-guided wine tours means you’ll spend less money on the trip. With a self-guided tour, you’ll only need to pay the cost of wine tasting at each location. This cost could be anywhere from $8-$20, depending on the wine region(s) you plan on checking out during your trip. It’s also good to note that you’ll need to budget for gasoline, meals, snacks, and any other entry costs for attractions you stop at along the way.
4. Ample Time at the Wineries
As mentioned, a self-guided tour gives you complete control over the schedule. So you can decide how long you want to stay at each winery. Perhaps you find a winery with a large selection of high-quality wines; then you can spend extra time without worrying about the tour bus leaving. Additionally, if you have scheduled an hour for a winery you realize you don’t enjoy, you can cut the stop short and move to the next point of interest.
Self-Guided Wine Tasting Tour Cons
1. Planning Can Be Overwhelming
There are a lot of moving pieces that go into planning a wine-tasting tour. You’ll need to spend at least a few hours researching routes, wineries, hours, costs, etc. Then, once you’ve decided on which wineries to visit, you’ll need to transition the details into an itinerary you can pass on to friends and family joining you. This process can be overwhelming, especially if you’re planning the entire wine-tasting trip yourself.
2. Requires a Designated Driver
You’ll need to elect one member from your group to be the Designated Driver to ensure the experience is safe for all. So, one person from your group won’t be able to taste the wines at the vineyards. Not all wine regions have a zero-tolerance policy, but Willamette Valley (and the entire state of Oregon) does. If any party member is caught with a 0.08 or higher alcohol concentration, there will be serious consequences. This means it’s 100% necessary for a sober driver when pursuing a self-guided tour.
3. Limited Access to Wineries
As with most industries, it can be beneficial to have established connections when wine tasting as it can mean having access to private vineyards and wineries. If you’re planning a self-guided tour, you likely won’t have access to these exclusive locations. Instead, you’ll only be able to explore public wineries.
Professional Winery Tour Pros
1. More Educational Experience
While you can research wines and wineries before visiting, you’ll find a more educational experience when led by a guide. The guide often shares personal stories about the owners of vineyards or experiences at particular wine-tasting locations that can’t be found online. Additionally, they know the area well and can typically offer knowledge of the history of wine in that particular spot.
2. Networking Opportunities
With a professional winery tour, you’ll often have the chance to meet with wine professionals in various areas of the industry. This networking can help you gain additional knowledge on winemaking while getting to know the face behind the wine you’re sipping. These connections can also help you get invited to more exclusive wine-tasting events.
Networking doesn’t have to solely be between yourself and the winemakers. You can also network with fellow wine tasters who may have shared interests or perhaps be in the same career industry as yourself.
3. No Planning Required
Guided wine tours are pre-planned, saving you time and effort in creating an itinerary. With a professional wine tour, you can simply relax and enjoy the tour. You won’t need to concern yourself with keeping the rest of the group on schedule, as the guide will be in charge of the entire trip from A-Z.
As a bonus benefit, the wine-tasting tour guides can typically recommend additional activities and restaurants in the area. If you’re unsure of what to do with extra time, they can help you fill up your schedule with things to do. Since they know the area well, they will also likely know hidden gems or spots that only locals know.
Professional Winery Tour Cons
1. Higher Cost Point
There is typically a higher up-front cost associated with professional winery tours. However, these costs usually include transportation between locations, a meal (such as a picnic lunch), and an experienced tour guide’s time. Some tours also include the cost of wine tasting built into their fee. While it may seem like a higher price at first glance, it does include quite a few perks.
2. No Flexibility on the Schedule
You must visit the pre-determined vineyards at the noted times when attending a guided wine tour. So, if you’re enjoying a particular winery and feel like staying longer, you won’t be able to extend the experience due to safety. Additionally, if you spot other attractions you’d like to visit, you’ll have to note them down for a different day.
3. Public Tours are Common
Many guided tours are open to larger groups. Meaning you will likely be paired with people you don’t know, especially if you only have a group of two or three people. While some wine tasters prefer this option, others desire a more intimate experience surrounded by loved ones.
Note: Private wine-tasting tours are also available, depending on the wine tour company, which would only include guests in your group.
Who should select professional tours?
If you’re on the fence about booking a guided tour, know that some groups will do best with a guide taking them through the process. For example, hiring a wine tour guide is a great option if you (and other group members) have not attended a wine tasting prior. The tour guide can provide tips on wine tasting that you may not have heard or learned before. Plus, they can walk you through the process, so you can enjoy the wine options more thoroughly.
Additionally, if you’re unfamiliar with the area, you may have a better experience with professional wine tours. With pre-planned guided wine tastings, your group does not need to stress about directions and finding the next winery. Finally, if you’re interested in getting to know other wine lovers in the area, selecting a public guided tour will be your best bet.
Self-Guided Vs. Guided Wine Tours: How to Select the Best Option
Ultimately, whether a guided or self-guided tour is ideal for you depends on your needs and preferences. Those more seasoned in wine tasting may prefer to create their itinerary for exploring wine country, while those new to the activity may thrive in a more structured environment. It’s worth noting and ranking the pros and cons for each type of tour before making your final decision.
Should you decide on a guided wine tour in the Willamette Valley, Oregon, Wine Tasting Tours offers a unique experience led by an award-winning author, historian, and professor. The tours include indepth information on the area, Oregon’s wine industry, wine history, making wine, and other fascinating tidbits. You’ll go to each winery’s wine bar in a convenient, comfortable private car with a customized itinerary to suit your needs.
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Schoch, Elaine. “Do It Yourself or Hire a Wine Tour Guide?” Carpe Travel, 16 Jan. 2020, carpe-travel.com/how-to-plan-a-wine-trip-do-it-yourself-or-hire-a-wine-tour-guide/.