Restless River  
Jamie Goode and Treve Ring visit this new star in the Hemel-En-Aarde

Anne and Craig Wessels, Restless River

Craig Wessels has a day job. He founded successful animation and design agency Wicked Pixels (, which he's still involved with. But together with his wife Anne, he's also established a new venture, Restless River. It's a small winery in the Heme-en-Aarde valley that started life in 2004 from scratch. First vintage was 2005, and along with the following vintage, this was made in a tiny hut, as a sort of hobby venture. The Restless River label was launched as recently as 2012. The winery has grown from its hut beginnings, but not by too much. The 2017 vintage saw just 25 tons crushed. There are 7 hectares of vines on this 20 hectare property.

The original winery 

We visited while some of the Cabernet Sauvignon grapes, the last to be harvested, were arriving. Hemel-en-Aarde is one of the coolest climates for this variety in the Cape, but with low yields and careful farming on good soils, the Restless River Cabernet has developed a loyal following. 'I'm happy for Cabernet to taste like Cabernet,' says Craig. 'I'm not scared of greenness. I'm committed to 100% varietal character. I'm the only idiot in the valley who takes Cabernet seriously.'

Cabernet Sauvignon, just harvested 

The other wine that has established the winery's reputation is Chardonnay. Craig looks for freshness in his Chardonnay, and picks with high acidity. He also likes old barrels, and when he buys new ones, he often lends them out for a year before using them. A new addition to the cellar is a pair of amphorae, from Tuscany, which are used to ferment Chardonnay.

Grenache undergoing carbonic maceration 

New to the range is Pinot Noir, first made in 2016 from vines planted in 2013. The first two vintages are lovely, but still both in barrel. They will be released under the label 'Lalochezia', which is the sense of satisfaction you get from using foul language. In time, when the vines are old enough, Pinot will become part of the core range.

Another new addition to the range is small parcel lots of interesting things. These will be released under the DILLIRGAF label, which is a biker acronym for 'do I look like I really give a ****'. For 2017 it will be Grenache. Some has been fermented in an upturned barrel with the end removed, while the rest of the two tons is being given whole bunch carbonic maceration. We looked at a tank that had been left for 8 days: the bunches still looked intact and the grapes had a slight prickle to them: internal fermentation had begun.

The Retless River labels are inspired by old whisky, which Craig is a fan of. They have lots of detail. 'If you understand what is on the label, then you are the sort of person I am making wine for.'



Tasting notes by Jamie Goode (JG) and Treve Ring (TR)

Restless River Ava Marie Chardonnay 2016 Hemel-en-Aarde, South Africa
Bottled two weeks ago. Focused, fresh and mineral with lovely acidity. Really precise with some meal and pear notes as well as keen lemony acidity. Has structure and linearity. There's lots of flavour here but it's all nicely channelled. Shows great precision and a long stony, lemony finish. 94/100 (JG)

Restless River 2016 Ava Marie Chardonnay
Named for their daughter, the 2016 Ava Marie Chardonnay was bottled two weeks prior to tasting
. Out of barrel, this rested into stainless steel for 3 months before bottling. Lovely fine spice to open the creamy palate, one fuller bodied, finely spiced. Very polished and finessed, with an appealing fine texture throughout that lingers on the finish. Gentle oak works well in this young wine. 92/100 (TR)

Restless River Ava Marie Chardonnay 2015 Hemel-en-Aarde, South Africa
There's real precision and elegance here with some yellow plum, white peach and citrus fruit, beautifully open with a hint of mandarin character. There's such lovely acidity, really well integrated into the wine, which has a real citrus core to it. Such balance here, with lovely delicacy and focus. 95/100 (JG)

Restless River 2015 Ava Marie Chardonnay
2015 was a stellar vintage across the Western Cape, and this is illustrating the year well. Very complete at this stage, with hazelnuts, fine lemon pith and peel very well integrated into the wine. Textural, fresh, with a fine herbal lees that lingers on the finish. Drinking beautifully now, but will continue to age. In the 2015 vintage, some big changes occurred in the white wine regime, importantly the move to the Vaslin press and aging in larger format barrels (only 1 new barrel for the chardonnay). 94/100 (TR)

Restless River Ava Marie Chardonnay 2014 Hemel-en-Aarde, South Africa
A wet, humid vintage that wasn't easy. Current release. Such balance here. Nut and cream notes as well as some spiciness, complementing the lemon and peach fruit. Great precision and purity with fine nutty, spicy notes. Fine toast and spice with nice concentration and weight. 93/100 (JG)

Restless River 2014 Ava Marie Chardonnay
Earthy, herbal and salted, the 2014 has a tighter, leaner and more restricted frame and form. Finely spiced and textural on the finish. Drinking lovely now, with its subtleties. 91/100 (TR)

Restless River Main Road and Dignity Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 Hemel-en-Aarde, South Africa
Lovely blackcurrant nose with some cedar and gravel notes. Beautifully perfumed. Fresh, supple, restrained and beautifully drinkable with some sweetness but also lovely purity and a gravelly blackcurrant core. Really delicious and expressive with lovely purity. 94/100 (JG)

Restless River 2013 Main Road & Dignity Cabernet Sauvignon
One of the few to grow Cabernet Sauvignon in Hemel-en-Aarde Valley. 20% whole berry, basked pressed, wild ferment, 15-40 day maceration and barrel aged 21 months in 75% old wood before being bottled unfined and unfiltered. Earthy-hued fruit, cassis, black cherry, subtle anise with very fine textures and ample salted licorice. So fresh and drinkable now, but will still age well. 93/100 (TR)

Restless River Cabernet Sauvignon 2011 Hemel-en-Aarde, South Africa
There's a refined, restrained perfume to the nose. There's freshness and purity to the blackcurrant fruit, with some fresh black cherry notes. Some grip on the palate. Very supple and pure with elegance and restraint, as well as some structure. This shows a lovely light, berry fruit edge with real elegance. Is developing really nicely. 94/100 (JG)

Restless River 2011 Main Road & Dignity Cabernet Sauvignon
From the cooler 2011 vintage. After a 33-day maceration, this 100% whole berry cab spent time in 33% new wood. Riper black currant and cassis fills a dense black plum, palate, softer with time, and still with a tug of tannins on the finish. 91/100 (TR)

See a film of the visit:


See also:

Visiting Hemel-en-Aarde

Wines tasted 03/17
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