Restless River’s first vintage was created in a tiny hut in 2005 as a hobby venture by Craig and Anne Wessels. One vintage was all it took to get them hooked on producing carefully crafted wines in limited quantities. So it was that in 2012 the couple launched their label with a particularly successful Cabernet Sauvignon, and they have consistently produced high-quality small batches ever since.
TEKST RUSSEL WASSERFALL
IMAGES COURTESY OF RESTLESS RIVER
Craig and Anne Wessels have found a busy but happy life in a valley called Hemel en Aarde (Heaven and Earth).
Situated on 20 hectares, Restless River has only 7 ha of vines from which only 25 tons crushed for the 2017 vintage. This means a limited supply of wine, so the husband-and-wife team concentrate on producing high quality wines with integrity and a dedication to excellent single-varietal wines. This petite, boutique winery nestled in the Hemel-en-Aarde valley has earned a cult-like status amongst wine connoisseurs since their launch. Their wines that have positioned themselves as must-haves for any serious collector.
The couple is particularly happy with the uptake of their wines in Norway where they were recently listed by Vinmonopolet. The maternal grandparents of winemaker Craif Wessels are, Sverre and Thordis Bakke, who emigrated from Norway to South Africa when they got married. He still has cousins and family in that far northern land, and it was a really special new market for his wines to enter.
Back in the wilds of South Africa, Hemel-en-Aarde lies just outside the popular coastal tourist destination, Hermanus. With its cooling Atlantic breezes, it is considered one of the best climates in the Cape for Cabernet Sauvignon grapes specifically. Careful and mindful farming, focus on healthy, loamy soil and the careful management of low-yield vines, has produced consistent harvests of excellent fruit. The resulting Burgundy-style Chardonnay and a distinctive Cabernet Sauvignon truly deserve their place in the firmament of treasured small-batch wines.
Craig takes a very laid-back approach to making his wines, allowing nature to do as much of the work as possible.
When it comes to Restless River’s Chardonnay, Craig prioritises freshness, searching out grapes with high acidity. With an eye on global trends, the winery has recently installed a pair of amphorae from Tuscany. Clay vessels such as these have been used in winemaking for millennia and they were brought in specifically to ferment Chardonnay. Old oak is used for the maturation process too, and Craig will often lend out new barrels to other wineries for a year until they are ripe for use.
Craig’s approach to winemaking showcases utter commitment to 100% single varietal character, and he’s not one to shy away from bold undertones. “I'm happy for Cabernet to taste like Cabernet, I'm not scared of greenness,” he says. This minimalistic stance and method mean that each vineyard is registered as a Single Vineyard and the wines are named after the vineyards. Restless River is largely terroir driven, and Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay are their primary focus.
Occasionally though, Craig will rebel against these exclusive, core single-varietal lines and release Wanderlust. This blend changes every year and is an opportunity for him to try out different combinations, techniques and varieties under once-off, small-batch collections. His most recent Wanderlust Red Blend, from 2019, is a 50:50 Pinot Noir and Pinotage and has a bright and tangy first impression chased by a firm and dry Pinotage finish.
Their tiny farm of only 20 hectares of which 7 produce grapes is called Klein Hemel (Little Heaven) for obvious reasons.
Restless River’s Ava Marie Chardonnay 2018 is named after their daughter and has earned an impressive 97 points from Platter’s. In executing this wine Restless River does 9 pickings throughout the vineyards and then does whole-bunch pressing. Out of the various barrels only one was actually used. It spent 11 months sur lie before being rested in a tank for a further two months. Once bottled, it was allowed to rest for two years before it was released. This fine wine is exceptionally full-bodied and finely spiced with a slight creamy palate and gentle notes of citrus and flint from the barrels. The texture is silky with a lingering finish.
The newest of the three Estate labels is the Le Luc Pinot Noir which is fittingly named after their son Luke. The Le Luc has also garnered the adoration of Pinot Noir lovers who have high hopes for upcoming vintages as the Hemel-en-Aarde valley is one of South Africa’s leading terroirs for Pinot Noir. The 2019 Le Luc Pinot Noir was notably awarded a well-deserved 95 points by Christian Eedes.
The making of Le Luc Pinot Noir involved 30% whole-bunch fermentation, with grapes from a single vineyard of sandstone on clay, before it matured for 14 months in 500-litre barrels. An incredibly expressive wine with deep notes of dark cherry, spice and musk paired with the crunchy freshness of the tannins and fruit purity.
The wine that first catapulted Restless River into the echelons of the fine wine scene is the 2013 Main Road and Dignity Cabernet Sauvignon. The wine is one of the more unique wines in South Africa because it is a cool-climate premium Cabernet Sauvignon, a rarity for the area. This delectable 20% whole berry wine is named after the two single vineyard blocks on the farm, Main Road and Dignity.
The wine underwent a wild ferment and a 15-40-day maceration after which it was barrel-aged in 75% old wood for 21 months. Finally it was bottled, unfiltered and unfined. On the palate there are bold notes of black cherry, earth-hued fruit and cassis, with subtle hints of anise and salted liquorice. Already fresh and drinkable now, this wine will only get better with age.
The 2013 edition is not to be confused with the 2011 Main Road & Dignity Cabernet Sauvignon, a cooler vintage that underwent a 33-day maceration followed by a stint in 33% new wood. 100% whole berry, the wine has riper black currant and cassis notes with a soft palate and subtle tannins on the finish.
The manual wine press is called Big Ethel and she is as hard-working at Craig’s beloved Series II Land Rover.
One of the newer wines to watch out for is their Pinot Noir, first made in 2016 with vines planted in 2013. The first two vintages are still in the barrel but will be released soon under the label ‘Lalochezia’ which is the sense of satisfaction that comes from using foul language. Quite fitting. When the vines reach maturity Pinot will hopefully become part of Restless River’s core range.
The labels adorning Restless River’s wines are inspired by Craig’s love for old whiskey and are significantly detailed. “If you understand what is on the label, then you are the sort of person I am making wine for,” says Craig. The Wessels are currently expanding their plantings on neighbouring farm, still primarily focused on producing high-quality, small-quantity Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir.
Available at Vinmonopolet
12339801 Restless River Main Road & Dignity Cabernet Sauvignon 2016
100% Cabernet Sauvignon kr. 439,90
12339701 Restless River Ava Marie Chardonnay 2017
100% Chardonnay kr. 389,90