On the up · 12 July 2018

Say cheers to these co-founders who transformed an old coal house into a winery

Ever since their pushy parents urged these two to become acquainted, this pair of co-founders have been inseparable. 19 years on, Ian Swindells and Mary Beth Coll own a seaside craft-winery and bar located in the Isle of Man overlooking Port Erin Bay.

After refurbishing an old coal house, Swindells and Coll produce their own wine from locally grown ingredients such as elderflower, rhubarb and honey.

For the second instalment of our “I fell in love with my co-founder” series, Business Advice caught up with Coll to hear about why they left sunny Colorado for the rather wet Isle of Man.

When was the business founded?

We moved to the Isle of Man for what was supposed to be only 2 years back in 2011. When we are asked “why the Isle of Man?” our usual response is “the weather” with a wry grin. Our first year on the island was the wettest year on record which was an adjustment considering we were accustomed to 300 days of sunshine in Colorado.

We initially moved to the island because it made sense for Ian’s international offshore job. I wanted to feel safe and did not want to live in the Caribbean due to the potential hurricane evacuations.  Ian was motorbike obsessed and has been a longtime fan of the Isle of Man TT.

Despite the weather, we managed to make it through our first winter here and we became enamored with the landscape and the people. The lack of anonymity and spirit of community was appealing and special to us.  The humble pride the Manx have in their island is also an admirable trait. The warmth of the people made the winters and weather not seem too harsh.

We quickly realised that the winter nights were very long and we needed a hobby. We always enjoyed making beer, cider and wine at home and we started using local produce to make ciders and wines.

We did this from our garden shed which became affectionately known as The Little Wooden Pub. Folks started asking us if we would sell our rhubarb wine and that got us thinking. We did a business plan and started looking around for suitable premises to make wine and have a tasting room for our products.

We eventually took over the premises in the summer of 2016 which was an old coal shed that stored coal for the local steam trains and residents of the village. We had to clean out the 150+ years of coal dust that was remaining in the premises before we took delivery of our vats to begin making wine.

We put down our first batch of rhubarb sparkling wine in the autumn of 2016. By the end of 2016 we started building the bar for our premises. We were able to open the bar for business on April 1 2017.

What is the company’s turnover?

Our company’s turnover has increased by 50% in the last year and we hope we can keep up the rhythm! The Isle of Man TT Races and our lovely summer always bring more people over, eager to celebrate and have a nice time by the sea, so we have without a doubt a nice season ahead.

How many employees are there?

We have 4 full-time employees which include ourselves, a bar/events manager and a wine production manager. During the summer and festive season, we have up to 8 seasonal staff and part-time staff to help us with the bar and outside events that we put on.

How did you both meet?

The short answer is that our fathers set us up in Texas. The longer story is that I tried putting off meeting Ian for as long as I could. I was not keen on being set up by my father. But upon my dad’s insistence, I relented. However, she thought I was really clever by managing to meet Ian on a Thursday night so I didn’t waste my Friday night with some Australian guy. We met on a Thursday night on the 1st April 1999 and then met up again on Friday night. We have been together ever since.

What inspired you to start a business together?

Ian had been working on offshore oil rigs for nearly 17 years and we wanted to spend more time together. When the oil industry started to take a dive in 2015 we realised it might be time for us to get a plan B and figure out a way Ian can stay onshore for a while.

What specific roles do you both have?

Ian is the winemaker, engineer, alchemist and problem solver. If something mechanical or electrical goes wrong then Ian is able to get us back on track with wine production and product development. I’m the paper pusher, numbers cruncher, marketing manager and people pleaser. If we need to liaise with the government, suppliers or customers then I’ll figure out what we need to provide.

How do you separate work disagreements from your personal life?

The good news is that it does not happen very often.  We are so wrapped up in the business because we both want it to thrive and progress. Learning to work with your partner is like learning to work with any new colleague it takes time to figure out some of their quirks. We now know that our time off is precious and we try not to spend it on negative energy.

Do you have any rules to leave work at work?

We try to have our time with each other and our dogs at home not be too disrupted by work. That is our aim. However, ultimately, we are in the wine and relax business. Inevitably we wind up having wine and relaxing and then we are chatting about work  It is a vicious (not that vicious) cycle.

What are your individual strengths?

Ian is pragmatic, sensible, driven and strives for perfection all the time. I’m conscientious, determined, resourceful and enjoys a laugh. We are greater as a whole than a sum of our strengths.

What’s been your biggest business achievement to date?

We are still open! We are also thrilled to have been very well received on the island and we are honoured to be sponsoring the Isle of Man Southern 100 Road Races. We provide the Podium Fizz for the winners of the races and it is pretty incredible to see your product be opened and sprayed by these amazing racers.  It is special!

What are the perks of running a business together?

We really enjoy being our own boss.  Having complete control of the product we are making and also knowing that people are enjoying their time with us is truly satisfying. We both put a lot of ourselves into this business and it is a relief that we are being well-received.

What are the downsides of running a business together?

Learning how to shut your brain off. There is always something we could be doing. There is unrelenting paperwork, endless possibilities of ideas, staffing issues, keeping up with changes in laws, and general anxiety of running a business.

What celebrity couple are you most like?

Basil and Sybil Fawlty, because despite their difference in approaches, they manage to complement each other in their own special way.

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ABOUT THE EXPERT

Carly Hacon is a reporter for Business Advice. She has a BA in journalism from Kingston University, and has previously worked as a features editor for a local newspaper.

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