Cromwell winemaker's duck shooters' port flies off shelf

Jade the black lab and  Debra's Cruickshank's father, Bob, were sketched by a local artist for the Duck Shooters Port label.
Jill Herron

Jade the black lab and Debra's Cruickshank's father, Bob, were sketched by a local artist for the Duck Shooters Port label.

Sometimes things don't always go to plan.

For Cromwell vineyard manager and winemaker Debra Cruickshank, it is a shift from making wine to keeping up with demand for a new product on the shelf - her Duck Shooters Port.

The 37-year-old former Southland farm girl is flat out in her unassuming little winery in the Cromwell industrial area where she also takes on the roles of bottler, labeller, office manager and marketing person. Not quite a one-woman-band, she does have Jade the labrador - a great listener but not much help with hauling heavy containers around, fixing machinery or answering the phone.

Debra Cruickshank enjoying the delightfully messy job of making port at her Cromwell winery.
Jill Herron

Debra Cruickshank enjoying the delightfully messy job of making port at her Cromwell winery.

Production is growing at the DC Winery with triple the tonnage of fruit at harvest now, compared with a few years ago. Making wine was the plan but it's the pinot noir ports that are catching the attention of the drinking public and are now becoming the main focus of production.

Jade's had a paw in helping with that process…when Cromwell artist Tui Johnson sketched her and Cruickshank's father, Bob, for the label on the Duck Shooters Port, its popularity soared. It was the beginning of something of a new era for the business, she says.

"People just loved that label and it's also really good port. It just kept selling out and it's taken over now really. Port is mainly what I make and I've added a Red Stag version for hunters."

There is more to come in the port pipeline but she is not letting on yet what that may be.

Cruickshank thrives on the physical work. She's a good keen Southlander and has done it all her life. It's a hands-on winery with no forklifts or conveyors and some of the crop is pressed the old fashioned way, by foot.

"I like the physical side of the work. Harvest time is messy, sticky and tiring but it's great, the busier the better for me. It's a good work out and it means I don't need a gym membership."

She grew up on Southland sheep farms in the Catlins and Waiwera South. Her parents were never "wine people", she says, but farming life was all about rolling up your sleeves and getting on with it, standing her in good stead for the demands of the vines.

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"My parents certainly weren't into wine in fact I've only just been able to stop them drinking cask wine in the past few years. At least they've seen the error of their ways now.".

For a couple of months at harvest it is a seven-day-a-week job as picking and winemaking get into full swing. She now produces about 30 different vintages for small scale and hobby vineyards and for her own Tannacrieff label.

She came to Cromwell after high school, unsure of a career path aside from some fairly vague ideas about getting involved in the arts.

"I went fruit picking, did a tourism job then ended up at Akarua working on the vineyard. I just loved it there, being out on the vineyard and learning so much every day. I managed to find my way into the winery and started out doing the donkey-work jobs."

She moved on to plunging tanks and it soon dawned on the vineyard owners that the wine business and Cruickshank were well suited to each other.

"Akarua put me through all my studies then I became the assistant winemaker and was there for eight years."

Eventually ready for new adventures, she spent a year at Margaret River in Western Australia running a wine lab then returned to Cromwell and set up a facility for making small batch wines.

"I can make anything from 100 litres to 5000 litres for a grower and I've got customers now in Alexandra, Clyde, Wanaka, Bendigo, Gibbston Valley and Cromwell."

She helps hobby growers through the whole process including caring for the vines from bud burst to picking and advising on growing methods.

"A lot of people don't realise the amount of work and the cost of having vines. It's very labour intensive and you can't just go on holiday if there's work that needs done or grapes that need picked."

Three years ago she acquired a sort of "unofficial lease" on a one-hectare block of pinot noir vines and became a small batch producer herself.

Away from work, her and Jade enjoy paddle-boarding down the Kawarau River with Jade often swimming along behind if it's a hot day.

With the cool store her brother built her and other storage space getting full she's starting to look around for more space. The dream, she says, would be her own little vineyard with a barn-style winery.

"I do sort of imagine that it would be as a family but at the moment it's just me and Jade, I haven't got time to go out and find a man."

 - Stuff


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