When Debra Cruikshank left school, she was not sure what she wanted to do.

She grew up on a sheep and beef farm in the Catlins and at the very least knew she wanted to do physical work.

She thought she might try art school.

Now, at 37, she has her own vineyard and winery and a successful business, DC Wines, that is growing each year.


After leaving school and the farm she chose to spend a year in Central Otago.

''I ended up at Akarua Winery and vineyard in Cromwell,'' Ms Cruikshank said.

''Working on the vineyard was an inspiring and challenging experience.''

She started at the bottom, learning about the industry and moved on to learn about winemaking.

Her employers paid for her to study winemaking by correspondence. After eight years with them, she left to spend a year in Australia where she ran a wine laboratory.

Returning to Cromwell, she went to work for a small company. By 2012, she decided to start her own business, with a winery in Cromwell, and contract wine-making and bottling for about 30 clients.

The white wines are ''foot stomped'' in the traditional way and she encourages her clients to roll up the trousers and get involved.

She also has a small, leased vineyard in Bannockburn, which produces pinot noir, rose, riesling and pinot gris under the Tannacrieff label.


Tannacrieff was the name of the family farm and although it was sold, she maintains links with her roots by using the template for its wool bales as the logo for her range of wines and ports.

''I've gone from wool to wine.''

She has since worked with Suncrest Orchard to make a range of fruit ports, including cherry, apricot and nectarine ports. In addition she has developed several ports for her Hunters' Collection, including Pinot Noir Ruby port, the Duck Shooters port and Red Stag Ruby port.

Her friend and artist Tui Johnston created hand-drawn labels.

She has also made Tawny Port, a blend of the ports she produced from the past five years.

Ms Cruikshank is proud of what she has achieved and although she sometimes has help from family, she does most of the work on her own.

Later this month, she intends to move herself, her equipment and Jade to Bannockburn where she is building a winery and eventually a wine-tasting facility. Once her move is complete she hopes to travel around the country to promote her products.

She was nominated for the Rural Women New Zealand Enterprising Rural Women awards and recently heard she had won the Swazi New Zealand Entrepreneurial award.

As a category winner she will discover whether she wins the supreme award during the RWNZ conference in Invercargill on November 18.

-By Yvonne O'Hara
Southern Rural Life