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Group Wine Tour vs Private Wine Tour: Pros and Cons

There are many differences between participating in a group wine tour and organising your own private wine tour whether you are a professional in the wine business or simply a wine lover. Recently I’ve had a few occasions to ponder on the pros and cons of the group wine tour versus your own private wine tour (by which I mean a tour for just yourself and partner/friends, say, up to 4 people without any professional guide for the trip) so here are some thoughts to share with you.

Note that the points below apply mainly to the choice for wine lovers rather than professionals though many apply to the latter too. I have presumed that this concerns a wine trip with a reputable wine tour specialist. Also, I should say that my thoughts apply particularly to trips in Europe and are not necessarily geared to buying wine. Please do add comments to this debate.

Group wine tour 2 - blogGroup Tours – The Pluses
• No advanced planning – just book and go.
• Someone to drive you around.
• Someone who speaks the local language and can interpret.
• Possibility of visiting certain difficult-to-visit wine producers who only accept visitors on a strict appointment and limited basis.
• Possibility of tasting older vintages or special wines that aren’t opened for individual visitors.
• The price is fixed in advance, often an all-in price.

Group Tours – The Minuses
• An enforced group situation possibly with strangers!
• Usually impossible to adapt or change the itinerary.
• Often slower visits, meals etc as there is a need to cater for everyone.
• Bus travel – not everyone enjoys this.
• Difficult to have access to speak directly with winery owners/winemakers.
• Often impossible to choose where and what you eat.
• Expense of the tour due to organisation/guide/transport.

Private Wine Tour - blogPrivate Tours – The Pluses
• Free to plan your own itinerary, often at the last minute.
• Complete freedom to adapt part way through.
• Travel at your own pace in your chosen form of transport.
• Travel with the people you know and like!
• Visit small wine producers that can’t accept groups.
• Can often chat directly with winery owners and winemakers.
• Eat in small restaurants that don’t take groups.
• Work to your own budget – choose whether to spend more on food or accommodation.

Private Tours – The Minuses
• Usually requires a lot of planning (but many enjoy this part!)
• One person nearly always has to drive a car.
• Can’t necessarily get access to visit very famous wine producers.
• Possible language issues if you don’t know a word of the language concerned and are not very confident.
• Budget is not so easy to control.

A few weeks ago I was a guest on the weekly wine podcast the New Wine Consumer where we debated this very subject – you might want to listen. The consensus was that private wine tours win in most cases providing that you have a willing driver (someone prepared to be rigorous at spitting out the tasting wines or abstain) and that you are confident enough to tackle just a few words of the local language of your chosen destination, however basic. With reference to the wine regions of France, we also talked about whether or not you need appointments to visit, something we note for all the wine producers recommended in Wine Travel Guides.

I look forward to your thoughts in the comments. Happy wine travels!

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6 Responses to Group Wine Tour vs Private Wine Tour: Pros and Cons

  1. This is such a tough call as to which I prefer. Sure, the private tours offer you ample freedom, but I am a huge fan of group trips as well. If the quality of the group consists of people very eager and educated in wine, I find that I learn a tremendous amount by sharing in the conversation with them. When going alone, although we can choose our given destination and time frame, I lack that dynamic feedback and tete-a-tete that makes wine so enjoyable to me. Hence, I suppose it depends on my goals for that specific trip that would determine which I would rather prefer, but I don’t think I personally would rank one above the other.

  2. It depends on your levels of knowledge and confidence. If you know what you want and where to find it, the DIY route is probably better… so long as you have the time and energy to organise it. Guided tours that cater to the “cash rich, time poor” wine lover can be great or indifferent, depending on who’s doing the organising. In the Languedoc (my home patch) I’ve heard great things about VinEcole’s tours, run by Matthew Stubbs MW.

  3. Cathy Shore says:

    Hi Wink

    We’ve read your article about organised tours versus private wine tours. While we agree with many of your comments about the pluses and minuses we feel that your article does not take into account people such as ourselves at le tasting room. We are a small French company in the Loire valley (launched in 2008) that specialises in wine tours, tastings and winery visits for interested amateurs, debutantes or professionals as well as running tastings and courses from our home in the Loire. We only cater for very small groups (around 6 people) and often for just a couple or family of 4. Our itineraries can be adapted and changed to suit any requirments and at all budgets and although we do expect to be compensated for our time, we feel that there are huge benefits of being driven around by someone who speaks the language, knows the estates, can recommend restaurants to suit any budget and has an in-depth knowledge of the area both from a professional and personal point of view. We don’t have a problem with taking bookings at short notice if we are not already doing a tour and what’s more, as we don’t have any accommodation it’s easy for our customers to see that they are getting value for money as our costs are pretty transparent. Of course, being wine professionals ourselves, we would probably fix our own itinerary if we were to travel elsewhere but being in the ‘trade’ does open doors that would not be available to the general wine consumer. Even so, if we were wanting to enjoy the food and wines of a particular region without the worry of driving (away from work), we may well use a local professional as a guide. What we would not be prepared to pay for is just a taxi service to and from wineries. Wineries that accept ‘groups’ tend not to be the most interesting to our customers anyway, they prefer to visit the ones that sometimes have run-down wineries but are run by passionate people, eager to share their story and approach with other like-minded people.

  4. Wink Lorch says:

    Thanks Gabriella, Louise and Cathy for your comments – others please do keep them coming.

    Cathy, I deliberately didn’t include mention of private guides because I wanted to leave something for others to mention in comments, which you have! There is definitely room in wine tourism choices for excellent small private companies offering guided tours for very small groups – the difficulty at present for consumers is how to gauge how good these companies or even solo guides are … I have often seen debate about this on Trip Advisor. At http://www.winetravelguides.com we are hoping to address this at some point in the future.

  5. I never would have thought about half of the things mentioned here. Thanks for the very informative post. Keep up the good work

  6. Great article, I prefer to go tasting in a large group and getting a limo to drive our party around. But I do like the idea of a smaller more intimate tasting experience.

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