Fruit Cru founders give us the juice on starting their natural wine business

By Madeleine Boles de Boer

Featured in Capital #88.
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Jesse Phillips and Cosmo Hawke aren’t sure exactly how they became friends, but they are confident on the why. Madeleine Boles de Boer asks them about their friendship and business.

I’m pretty sure we met at a house party in Fitzroy,” says Jesse. “We were both into music, in particular making beats.” Cosmo is hazier on the details. “I honestly can’t remember, but our friendship was definitely forged through music.”

Both Wellingtonians (loosely – Jesse spent his youth around Plimmerton, Golden Bay, and Nelson), in their 20s they moved independently to Melbourne, where their friendship began. Thus began a series of parallels between their lives, leading eventually to Fruit Cru, their joint venture into organic fruit ferments.

After a decade in Australia, Cosmo moved back to Wellington with his wife and baby son, wanting to be closer to family. Having been involved in food and beverages throughout his career, he worked at Karma Cola, before opening the popular Ghuznee Street hotdog and wine bar, Ascot, and co-founding organic wine store Everyday Wine.

Jesse returned to Wellington more recently, following the pandemic, after starting a family. A chef, DJ, and part-time clothing retailer in Melbourne, Jesse also found himself in the deep end of Wellington’s hospitality scene upon his return, stepping into the executive chef position at Havana Bar and Fidel’s.

Before his return, Jesse had time to spare in lockdown, and began experimenting with small fruit ferments at home. Back in Wellington, meanwhile, Cosmo was doing the same.

“We’re both passionate about natural wine and wanted to work together using these techniques. We began chatting about it and setting the wheels in motion,” says Jesse.

The pair hit the ground running but they almost fell at the first hurdle.

“We both wanted to make natural wine, but we needed it to reflect the place we lived. We signed up with Organic Farm NZ and they introduced us to some amazing small-scale growers in Horowhenua and the Kāpiti Coast. The thing is, no one was growing grapes.”

The pair decided to make wine anyway, using local fruit. Jesse concedes that Fruit Cru’s heavy use of apples would suggest their drinks are ciders, but says “because of the way we produce, we look at our drinks as fruit pét-nats” – “pét-nats” being shorthand for pétillant naturel, the product of the oldest method of making sparkling wine.

Cosmo says the distinction – “not quite wine and not quite cider” – can be tough for people to get their heads around.

“It’s complicated. Basically, we’re in our own lane and we’re making it up as we go along. But this also makes it really rewarding.”

Fruit Cru is certified organic, an accreditation that’s important to both the team and their customers. “We’ve formed some really valuable relationships with growers producing quality organic fruit – whether it’s an orchard or just a couple of trees, the quality of the fruit speaks for itself, so it just makes sense to keep it organic,” says Jesse.

They knew the challenges of going into business together and were upfront about ensuring their friendship didn’t get lost along the way. Their shared vision and reliance on each other’s strengths make for a harmonious working relationship. “Mistakes will happen but in the end, day-ones stick together,” says Cosmo.

Having recently moved to a bigger central city warehouse, Cosmo and Jesse are focusing their efforts full-time on growing Fruit Cru. “We’re passionate about staying true to our vision, letting the fruit guide things,” says Jesse. Cosmo agrees. “The only goal is to produce amazing pét-nats using locally sourced organic fruits – the rest will take care of itself.”


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