Dragons’ Den put the sparkle into Geoff Bowen’s Pebblebed business
PUBLISHED: 10:00 07 January 2016 | UPDATED: 10:06 07 January 2016
A Topsham entrepreneur has spoken about how his appearance on the BBC’s Dragons’ Den programme changed his life and put the sparkle into his wine-making business.
Geoff Bowen, owner of Pebblebed Vineyards, appeared on the show in 2011 and is remembered for drying up midway through his pitch.
The 51-year-old businessman admits the pressure at the time was ‘intense’ and that all of the Dragons gave him a ‘real grilling’.
Geoff’s proposal caused a row between Dragons Deborah Meaden and Duncan Bannatyne, before Bannatyne became an investor and stumped up £60,000 to expand the business.
However, Geoff revealed despite the pressure he would do it all again - because of the exposure the show has brought him.
More than 30,000 viewers logged onto the Pebblebed Vineyard website soon after the show to buy Geoff’s sparkling wines.
He said: “The Dragons’ Den programme was a huge help to my business. I went onto the show with a fresh approach.
“After the show, farmer Marianne Pool helped me buy some land, so we could grow our own wine.
“I have begged and borrowed land my whole life.
“My family and I now live at the vineyard at Clyst St George.
“It is difficult when you have to practise your entire pitch 100 times. I forgot my pitch midway through because of the lights, atmosphere and the fact you are standing in front of five famous faces, but I got it back.
“You are in front of the dragons for three hours. They are really aggressive and try to pull you apart, but you have to stand your ground.”
Pebblebed Vineyard was launched in 1999, and Geoff produced his first wine called Dodo Bird in 2002.
By 2006, the entrepreneur was producing 10,000 units of wine, before more than doubling it to 25,000 units in 2010.
The businessman said the secret to his success was personal charm and help from his family and the Topsham community.
Pebblebed Vineyard is also a food and events business.
Geoff, who owns vineyards in both Woodbury and Ebford, added it was important for him to receive the backing of Bannatyne.
However, the entrepreneur did confirm he had not spoken to former I’m a Celebrity Get me out of Here contestant Bannatyne in a while.
The 51-year-old added that he runs his business for love and not profit.
He said: “Duncan was really friendly and helpful and brought his whole family down from Scotland.
“He is exactly like he is on the show. It was just nice to have someone who believed in my project and validated what we are doing as a business.
“We had 500 people help us with the grapes this year. We have had so much support from the local community. We always aim to get Topsham residents involved with the business.
“My daughters Martha and Jessie help me with the wine and enterprise. Martha also has helped me give a talk to John Lewis. We all muck in together to squash the grapes.
“I am not really into the whole celebrity thing. I am more about people and the community, because after family, what have you got left? I do not believe that a business has to grow all of time; for some on Dragons’ Den, it was all about the money.
“When people come into my business, I want them to feel as though they are in the Mediterranean, because, in my opinion, what we offer is exactly what you would get on the back streets of Italy or Spain.”
Geoff set up his own environmental geology consultancy aged 23, and he has also worked on the Burj Tower in Dubai.
However, the entrepreneur explained how he wouldn’t have achieved anything in business without the love and support of his devoted wife of 22 years, Anna.
He continued: “Anna and I have always had that entrepreneurial spirit.
“She used to run shops in Topsham before the children came along and it is good to see that Anna is getting back into business.”
Former head chef at Exmouth’s Waterfront restaurant, Raphael Barras has joined forces with Geoff as a partner to take the business forward.
Geoff said the French man’s experience in the kitchen had taken Pebblebed Vineyard’s cuisine to the next level.
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