Planting a Vineyard in the Dragons’ Den

Bauduc Bondholders had a sense of déjà vu last week as English winegrower Geoff Bowen pitched for a £60,000 investment in a vineyard scheme near Exeter, in the first of a new series of the BBC show. Confident that 20 wine lovers would splash out £9,500 for 5 cases of English sparkling wine a year for 10 years, he wooed canny Duncan Bannatyne.

b006vq92_178_100“There are some really toe-curling moments in the Den,” reads the BBC Dragons’ Den website. “And they don’t come worse that Geoff’s opening minutes in front of the Dragons.

“The Devon-based winemaker starts his pitch and immediately faces the moment entrepreneurs dread – he completely forgets his lines.

“Seconds pass like hours as he struggles to regain his composure under the baleful eye of the silent Dragons.”

Reminded of the brilliant spoof by Harry and Paul (below) sweating nervously in front of the Dragons, I watched with interest as Geoff recovered to explain that he could entice 20 members of the public to pay £9500 for 600 bottles of his sparkling wine, spread over the next ten years. With a few extra costs, it would work out to £20 a bottle, he estimated.

Oddly enough, none of the Dragons questioned this – after all, one can pick up a decent bottle of good English sparkling wine for twenty quid, such as Bob and Sam Lindo’s Camel Valley, with no strings attached. Or a grower’s Champagne, of course.

dsc02335After James Caan (née Khan) had ruled himself out on religious grounds, the remaining Dragons were treated to a tasting – a nice touch that – while we, the viewers, were treated to embarrassing jokes about ‘not wanting to upset the French by calling it shampiiine’. The Dragons then focused on Geoff’s ability to repay the £60k seed investment that he was after, in return for 20% of the new business. The new business would run alongside his existing vineyard.

As grumpy Deborah Meaden laid into poor Geoff over his figures, Duncan Bannatyne was quick to make an offer of £60k for 40% of the venture, called Pebblebed Partner Vineyards, provided that he would be repaid in full after 12 months. As he made clear, if Geoff had 20 x £9500 = £190,000 coming in, plus the £60k investment, less £144,000 in set-up costs, then he would be able to repay the £60k straight away. After some ritualistic ‘I’m outs’, the deal was done.

So will it be fizz or flop? My take on the arrangement, and I’ve been in touch with Geoff, is this. (Update: see Geoff’s comment below.)

dsc02288Firstly, Geoff will need to swiftly maximise the exposure that he’s had on national TV, on a well known BBC show to boot, to have any chance of winning over 20 people to pay nearly ten grand each for 600 bottles of sparkling wine – even if he has promised to put bespoke labels on every bottle. Despite the awkward start, he came across as a very nice, genuine guy with experience and passion.

That’s not the trickiest bit. If he can attract that amount of money, I’m not sure why he agreed to give away 40% of the equity for a one-year loan. This could come back to haunt him. Duncan Bannatyne is no fool and once again established that he has, along with a certain charm about him, the sharpest entrepreneurial mind of all the dragons, and is as slippery as a fish’s wet bits. He won’t want to be crossed – and if he is, he might tweet as much to his 120,000 followers on Twitter, which wouldn’t be nice.

frederick-planting-young-sauvIf Geoff struggles to find the 20 people to pay £9500 in year one to repay Bannatyne the £60k, whilst proceeding with the purchase of the land at the same time, and starting to plant it up (that’s another story), much will depend on his new relationship with the straight-talking Scot. Can the loan be extended or the terms changed and made fairer to Geoff? If Geoff can keep him onside, then it could work out.

I hope so, because, in principle, it’s a fine idea and very much in line with the Bauduc Bond that we first launched in 2004. As with Geoff’s scheme, we needed to plant vines – but in Bordeaux, not Devon.

sauv-plantation-and-pinesOur scheme was a little different, and a lot less expensive to the consumer. We offered 8 mixed cases of different Bordeaux wines in the UK per year – red, white and rosé – for a total of four years. That’s 32 cases, or a total of 384 bottles of still wine, equivalent to £2700 at today’s Bond price, which works out to a third of Geoff’s bottle price at £7 per bottle (the original Bond price was £2150, or £5.60 a bottle, when UK duty rates and the exchange rate were much more favourable). Bondholders could also add two extra cases to their stash per year by collecting from Calais. Plus there are other goodies included, like the Bondholder dinners at the Chateau.

bond-vineyard-a-year-in-the-vinesSure, our wines are not sparkling – and English sparkling wine is in vogue right now – yet our wines were all endorsed by Rick Stein and Gordon Ramsay as house wines or as special selections on their wine lists.

We have over 200 Bondholders today, as many renewed their original Bonds in addition to new customers. The existing Bonds are scheduled to expire this year and next, so we’re looking to come up with an attractive offer to extend the programme for our loyal supporters, if they choose to do so. Our Bondholders have certainly been great ambassadors for our wine.

vines-new-plantingHowever, we have never offered bespoke labeling on 60 bottles and, perish the thought, it’s unlikely that we ever will. Life’s too short for that and I, for one, wouldn’t want Duncan Bannatyne on my case, asking for his money back.

So for that reason alone …

If you’re interested in the scheme – and do leave a comment below – please contact Geoff directly at geoff@pebblebed.co.uk or take a look at his website. Geoff is keen to promote the involvement of the new ‘partners’ – helping to plant the vines and so on – and he is certainly closer to home for most people.

4 thoughts on “Planting a Vineyard in the Dragons’ Den

  1. Geoff bowen

    Gavin – its interesting to see your bond project working successfully. We originally planted Pebblebed as a project among friends and this has extended into my commercial vineyard of 22 acres near Exeter. The idea of this new project is to involve more people in the enjoyment we have had over the last 10 years – planting, nurturing, harvesting and in the end drinking your first bottle. But having said this i am looking at how the mechanics of this works best both for me and for investors. Going into the Den is not an experience i want to repeat – i was in there almost 3 hours being battered and they took the "best" 5 minutes for TV! Best regards Geoff

    1. Gavin

      Many thanks for the comment, Geoff, and well done for surviving the Den.

      Many years ago we were asked if we wanted to appear in, if I remember correctly, "No going back". In hindsight, it would probably have been a disaster if they'd just shown the really stressful bits (which make for better telly). I also enjoyed talking to an owner of a restaurant in the Lake District, in Ambleside (my sister Lucy has one nearby, called, er, Lucy's), a few years back. This was soon after he had appeared as one of the early birds in Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares. Poor sod. You can guess what happened – but the best bit was that the programme, for which he'd volunteered, hadn't been given the 'Nightmare' title in the first place prior to filming, apparently. It was called something innocent like 'Cooking with Ramsay' or whatever. So imagine his horror when his friend called and said 'hey, this trailer for a new TV programme on Channel 4 with Ramsay, isn't that the one you're on?"

      Our Bond scheme, I think, has worked both ways – a win-win – and we'll be talking with Bondholders this autumn about the way forward. They have several things in common – they are intelligent, successful, gregarious people who enjoy entertaining. Oh, and they like wine, which helps. At our end, it has not been plain sailing, not least the increase in UK duty, but the worst of it was the hailstorm last year that trashed the new vines. See the link here or the box on the right under 'Popular' posts, or click on the 'hail' tab on the right. However, I would say that the splurge of comments we had, as well as numerous emails of support, meant that having a direct relationship between producer and consumer – as you yourselves do – is the most important lesson we learned to get through tougher times. Which doesn't bode well for an awful lot of vignerons.

      Let me know if I can help with any part of your plans – via email, phone, twitter, facebook (both GavinQuinney). Meanwhile, I'll be working nights on our fb page (consumer to consumer etc, fbml – what's that…?) or out in the vineyard.

      Best of luck, Gavin

  2. Charles Bourn

    Very generous spirit and comments in your behaviour, Gavin.

    I am impressed. Best wishes Charles

  3. Sue

    I have some sympathy for Geoff, since my business has just hooked up with a Dragons Den 'candidate', and she has shared just how difficult and terrifying an ordeal it was. She did get the backing but I admired her guts and determination..starting a business venture takes courage.