‘He almost died’: Confessions of a winemaker


They've faced a near-death experience together, financial turmoil and tough times but these winemakers have made it out the other side to open Fortitude Valley's urban winery, City Winery. Here is their story:

Kris Cush, 41, Carseldine, winemaker

I was the only female wine student who was fresh out of school. I was studying wine science at Charles Sturt University in Wagga, the rest in my class were mature-aged students. Studying winemaking isn't something people usually do until they're older, when they've developed a palate for wine, but I'm from a family of winemakers and was born into it.

I was in my final year and on a bus wine tour with other students when I met Dave in 1999. It was his first year studying viticulture, which is more about growing grapes and not so much the making.

Winemakers at City Winery, Kris and Dave Cush. Picture: Mark Cranitch.
Winemakers at City Winery, Kris and Dave Cush. Picture: Mark Cranitch.

We were with a heap of other students and the tour was total debauchery really, there was nothing romantic about it but we became fast friends. We quickly knew we were meant to be together.

Months after meeting, I got a job in Victoria at a winery and Dave decided to come with me and we travelled around for a little while together. He studied externally.

In 2001, I got a call from my father asking if we were ready to build a winery on the family property in Tasmania.

We'd been making wine down there for many years but had a contract winemaker. I was 23 and we decided to go so I could make the wine on site.

By 2003, I was nine months' pregnant and I had to teach Dave the ropes of winemaking so he could gradually take over my job while I concentrated on having our children.

Dave has become a wonderful winemaker and has worked so hard to perfect his craft.

We moved to Queensland about six years ago with the dream to bring winemaking to the people, instead of living in the middle of nowhere and hoping they'd come to us.

But it's not a glamorous industry. We did it tough for many years.

I went back to uni to become a science and chemistry teacher so we could make ends meet.

We were spending our life savings on making wine.

Dave would go to different locations and rent a space to make wines.

Winemakers at City Winery, Kris and Dave Cush. Picture: Mark Cranitch.
Winemakers at City Winery, Kris and Dave Cush. Picture: Mark Cranitch.

At one stage, he was making wine out of a rented space in Stanthorpe but camped for three months because we had no money for accommodation.

In 2017, he was making wines in a shipping container near Ipswich when he almost died.

It was during Cyclone Debbie and the door to the container blew shut and trapped him in there.

There's lots of carbon dioxide that is produced when making wine so he was lucky he managed to get out of there.

We've had our challenges but this year we opened City Winery in Fortitude Valley and couldn't be more excited.

In the last month, I've been able to quit my teaching job and Dave and I are making wines together for the first time in years.

We're soulmates and life can be tricky no matter where you are, but I know I can count on Dave and he can count on me. We hold each other up.

Dave Cush, 42, Carseldine, winemaker

Kris was the first woman I felt comfortable talking to. As a young bloke, I had a lot of anxiety talking to females but Kris always put me at ease.

That's when I knew she was special.

We'd only been together about six or seven weeks when she had a job lined up in the Yarra Valley.

We had to decide if it was a fun fling or worth pursuing and I'm so glad I followed her.

She travelled to France a few times to make wines but in 2001, we'd organised to move to Tasmania to make wines on her family property.

At that point, winemaking wasn't on the cards for me and I knew there wouldn't be much work at the family winery for me, so I thought I'd start my own business.

When Kris fell pregnant with our first child (we've now got three boys), she was grooming me to take over her job as the winemaker.

I was just an extension of Kris and she was a great teacher.

I was back and forth to the house a lot with a sample of wine for her to taste. That was a very steep learning curve.

I was so scared of buggering things up that I became obsessed with detail.

Kris has always had great instincts with tastings so we became a good team.

Even though I had a basic knowledge, most of what I know has come from Kris.

We often think we could've stayed in Tassie and had that security until the end of our days but there's no way either of us could've fulfilled our potential there.

We help each other through the difficult times and we're lucky that we can always rely on each other.

There's no way I'd be able to do the things I have done without Kris and knowing she's always there for me.

She really lit a fire within me to make wine and in the last few years living in Brisbane, I've really expanded my knowledge of wine in Australia and around the world.

Since opening City Winery together, it's the first time we've been winemakers together since 2006.

It was a big dream for both of us and we've finally got to achieve it.

It's a big moment for us and we can't wait to see what's in store for us and the business in the coming years.

City Winery, 11 Wandoo St, Fortitude Valley