Do-it-yourself attitude and No 8 approach win

Debra Cruikshank’s entrepreneurship has been recognised by Rural Women New Zealand. Photo: Supplied
Debra Cruikshank’s entrepreneurship has been recognised by Rural Women New Zealand. Photo: Supplied
When it comes to motivated and effective people, Debra Cruikshank leads by example, as Sally Rae discovered when she met a rising force in winemaking.

Debra Cruikshank jokes that she probably should be cloned — a few times over.

The Central Otago dynamo is behind DC Wines Ltd and her own wine label, Tannacrieff Wines.

She’s largely a one-woman band as she works towards opening her new winery in Bannockburn later this year.

Ms Cruikshank has  won  the Swazi New Zealand Entrepreneurial Enterprising Rural Women Award, part of Rural Women New Zealand’s Enterprising Women Awards.

She now goes up against  three other category winners — NZI Innovative Enterprising Rural Award winners Kylie Davidson and Emma Hammond, from Hammond and Davidson Accountants, Riversdale; Agrisea New Zealand Love of the Land winners Kiri Elworthy and Jenny Bargh, from Tora Coastal Walk, Martinborough; and RWNZ Emerging Enterprising Rural Women award winner Jo Kempton from Happy Belly Ferments, Greytown — for the supreme award which will be revealed at RWNZ’s national conference in Invercargill on November 18.

One of the judges, Swazi sales manager Warwick Bean, said the finalists demonstrated how they could develop from concept to instigation to successful business model.

"They illustrate the Kiwi ethos of the No8 wire philosophy, in finding an opportunity and then a way to make everything work successfully," Mr Bean said.

Busy putting insulation in her new bottle room, Ms Cruikshank said she was "stoked" to receive the award.

She grew up on a farm in the Catlins and had fond memories of helping her father lambing, milking the pet cow before school, making hay huts for pregnant pigs and then staying up all night to watch them deliver their piglets. She credited that upbringing with  giving her what she believed to be one of the most important life skills — a work ethic.

She spent eight years working for Akarua Winery where she worked from the "bottom up" — starting in the vineyard then making her way into the winery where she cleaned floors, plunged wine tanks and filtered, bottled and brewed beer.

After spending a year in Western Australia running a wine lab, she came home to make wine for a very small winery in Cromwell.

She was never particularly keen on working for others and the time finally came to open her own boutique winery.

She started a small contract winemaking facility in March 2012, which was the start of DC Wines Ltd.

A very unassuming storage shed was turned into a modest little nine-tonne winery that year, using old-world winery equipment.

It had grown to about 40 tonnes, which included 10 tonnes of cherry pulp for making cherry port. Tannacrieff cherry port was unique in Central Otago.

Ms Cruikshank now makes up to 30 different wines for small vineyard producers whom she consults through the season. She bottles for most of her smaller clients.

Back in 2013, she decided to start a wine label and began creating her first wines for Tannacrieff Wines (named after the family farm), making about two tonnes of pinot noir, rose, riesling and pinot gris.

In 2012, she began experimenting with some pinot noir port which  became one of her greatest successes.

She started with 150 bottles and quickly realised it was never going to be enough. She purchased extra fruit and lifted her bottle count to more than 2000.

For the past five years, she has been working on Central Otago’s first tawny port and was awaiting the arrival of bottles from Italy. Those are due to appear in February. She had been ‘‘gobsmacked’’ by the response to her port.

Ms Cruikshank was extremely excited about the new winery development. Having outgrown her small Cromwell winery, she had moved to a "beautiful spot" in Bannockburn which had a big shed that she decided to turn into a winery.

She loved the physical aspect of the industry and also her clients.

"I have got the best clients; they are so supportive."

The Central Otago wine community was also very "strong and cool" with the bigger players helping her out and vice-versa.

Ms Cruikshank said her family helped out when she was busy.

It was now at the stage she might need another "superwoman" — or "superman" to help. Her loyal assistant Jade, the Labrador dog, loved it at the winery — but just did not help out enough, she quipped.

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