Debra Cruickshank was sick of waiting for a husband. So she started making wine.
“It was 2012 and I thought, bugger it, I’m just doing this myself,” she says.
Now she is known as the Port Queen. Her kingdom is in Cromwell, where she not only produces ruby port under her Tannacrieff brand but also creates 30 other wines for clients. She is a one-woman band, which means she is a builder, mechanic, viticulturist, accountant and winemaker.
She’s been busy today, trying to fill hundreds of orders for thirsty New Zealanders, but she has time for a quick 15-minute chat.
Tannacrieff is named after the sheep farm she grew up on near Owaka in the Catlins.
“I guess growing up on a farm you sort of get a different work ethic. When it's your own, you get stuck in. If you bugger up, it's your own fault really isn’t it?” she chuckles down the phone.
Debra first started by getting a little vineyard in Cromwell and doing contract winemaking.
Then came the port, which Debra admits she didn’t think would be a hit.
“I thought port was an older person sort of drink! But then my friends were tasting it and saying wow this is amazing,” she says.
The Tannacrieff Hunters Collection has grown from a single barrel in its first year to 29 barrels. It became so big, Debra had to find a property that fitted her operation. In 2017, she moved to Bannockburn and with the help of her brother, who is builder, she turned a shed into a winery.
All her port labels have a story behind them. The first featured her dad and her black Labrador Jade.
"It’s not just port. It's all got heart and meaning behind it all,” she says.
None more so than two labels dedicated to war veterans.
She has teamed up with Corporal Aaron Horrell, who made the documentary Afghanistan: The Soldiers’ Story, to make a special type of brew.
“He’d started a Grunt Port which he is really passionate about,” she says.
Debra is also just bottling up her Armistice Port, from 2018, which will celebrate 100 years since the end of World War I.
Her tawny port will do another round this year. Created from every brew she has made since 2012, only 150 bottles are made and each year it sells out, she says.
Investors have come knocking over the years, but Debra has turned them down.
“I sort of take pride that it is my own and how far I’ve come with it. If I get investors, it will turn out to be something out of my hands,” she says.
So, it is just Debra and her boss, a black lab called Jade, and a few students now and then. And that’s all this Port Queen needs to be happy.
“I’ll make port now for the rest of my life,” she says.
And as for the husband?
“Still no husband. I’m far too busy now!”