It’s customary to get big groups of friends and family together for milestone birthdays and bachelorette parties, or for no reason at all.

The Willamette Valley’s wine scene is a trendy group experience. With flashy wine tasting rooms and unbelievable views, it’s an obvious choice for an unforgettable day with friends. However, planning the group outing can be complicated and daunting.

Here are five key things you should know.

Safety first
For large groups, having a designated driver is essential. The most affordable approach is to drive yourself. While this will save on your pocket-book, it takes a lot of time to plan the route, rent a vehicle and choose a friend to drive that isn’t the life of the party. An alternative is to hire a limo or charter company. This takes care of the driver and vehicle, but you will need to take care of the itinerary. Tour companies are a great option if you want a customizable, yet, turn-key solution. It’s convenient and well worth the expense. The tour company will take care of everything including lunch. Additionally, they usually have good relationships with the wineries, which comes with extra perks.

Reservations
If you have 8 or more in your group, a reservation at each winery is required. This means you must call ahead and schedule a time for your tasting. If your group shows up unannounced, you may be turned away depending on the time and day. While it’s extra effort to make a reservation, wineries typically set-up a private table with glassware and a designated host. This allows the group to focus on the wine, but also engage in personal conversations. This step is managed by a tour company.

Research
For a number of reasons it’s important to do some research before you make plans. This includes surveying your group members for wine preferences and budget parameters. Knowing what you want beforehand will expedite conversations with tour companies, and help you choose an itinerary that everyone will enjoy. Once you have your wineries selected, it’s good to check on hours of operation, outside food policies, and whether they can accommodate large groups. This step is managed by a tour company.

Lunch
Lunch is critical when spending a day wine tasting. It helps cleanse the palate and prepare you for additional wine tasting. In the Willamette Valley, most wineries don’t offer food and many don’t allow outside food on premise. It’s important to know what winery and time of day you are aiming to eat. If it’s nice outside, my recommendation is to pack a lunch. You can call a local grocery store like New Seasons or Whole Foods and have them make a charcuterie plate, or call a local restaurant like Red Hills Market or Babica Hen in Dundee and have them pack a box lunch.

Party Bus
Being cautious of the “party bus” is a new and unspoken rule at most wineries. In fact, some are even turning these groups away. Mostly party busses encourage drinking in-between wineries. This is unnecessary when tasting at 3-4 wineries in a day. It accelerates your alcohol level and ruins your taste buds. In order to avoid this label, it’s best to hire a tour company to host your group wine tasting experience. They are a trusted partner by the wineries.