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Okanagan winery adapts to COVID-19 'new realities' with virtual wine tastings

Rob Hammersley of Black Market Wine Company is trying a new and innovative way to connect with customers cut off due to COVID-19 restrictions.
Rob Hammersley of Black Market Wine Company is trying a new and innovative way to connect with customers cut off due to COVID-19 restrictions.
Image Credit: SUBMITTED/ Black Market Wine Company Facebook page

Social distancing and crowd restrictions imposed due to the COVID-19 pandemic is hitting the Okanagan’s wine industry hard at this time of year.

Wineries and vineyards are losing out on spring marketing opportunities, gatherings and events that allow them to maintain a connection with customers.

But at least one South Okanagan winery is pioneering a new way to stay connected to their customers through virtual wine tastings, since their customers can’t come to them.

Black Market Wine Company’s Rob Hammersley says this time of year the winery would normally have opportunities to get in front of their customers in their Kaleden-based tasting room, or through consumer-focused tasting events.

“We’ve had five events scheduled in the month of April that all got cancelled. We had a winemakers’ dinner last Thursday that was cancelled, there was a tasting in Vancouver this coming Saturday that was cancelled, all the VQA tastings in Victoria, Vancouver and Calgary have been cancelled,” he says.

Hammersley says those events presented great opportunities for wineries, especially for new ones like Black Market.

“We were scratching our heads, wondering how to reach our customers, so two weeks ago we decided to see how it went and did a quick virtual tasting with one of our wines. We ended up having 20 or 25 people join in,” he says.

Last week, the winery took what they learned from the first virtual tasting and did more promotion, resulting in 80 people joining in for the second virtual tasting

“It’s growing, It’s a good way to keep our brand front and centre in our customer's minds, and a new, fun way to get people trying our wines,” Hammersley says.

Black Market uses Instagram and Facebook to conduct their virtual tastings. Hammersley says two cameras are set up, one for each platform, with Black Market broadcasting live.

The platforms also provide a means for viewers to respond through a comments function.

“It’s kind of interactive. It’s not like a live video chat, which I think some wineries are experimenting with. You’re really limited to how many people can join, and we’re trying to reach a lot of people, so doing a video chat with 70 or 80 people would be difficult,” Hammersley says.

"People are spending a lot of time on their devices these days. They have more time to be in front of their computers and their phone. This is definitely not a way we would have approached our customers a month ago, but in this new reality, this is how we connect now,” he says.

Hammersley says even though still in the experimental stage, he is finding it an effective way to connect.

“It’s nice when you have people come to your tasting room, but that’s only a small fraction of your customer base. If we can find a platform like this that works, maybe it becomes a monthly thing even when we are open again, just as a way to stay connected,” he says.

“Innovation comes out of forced change, circumstance requiring us to adapt to how we do business. This is innovation in the making, for sure,” Hammersley says.

Black Market’s next virtual tasting takes place today, April 2, starting at 6:30 p.m.

Those wishing to participate should follow "Black Market Wine" on Facebook or "Black Market Wine Co" on Instagram

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