When the stars align for great wine…

To end off #womensmonth this year, we’d like to tell you a story of when a few stars aligned in the Swartland skies. 

Franziska in a Pedro Valse vineyard she planted in 2015. Photo from Daréll Lourens’ Postcards from a vine series.

Franziska Wickens (néé Schreiber) is the third generation to farm on Waterval in the Siebritskloof valley of the Paardeberg. When her paternal grandparents bought the property in 1947 the old cellar was still there but, as the story goes with many of the Swartland farms, back then most of the region’s grapes went straight to the Coop, and her grandpa farmed with poultry. 

As a result of her German heritage Franziska attended the Cape Town German School and when her grade one class was asked to complete an assignment about what they wanted to be when you got older, little Franziska wrote (in German) “ When I’m old I want to be a farmer and farm with chickens”… This she attributes to the fact that as kids they got to play with the little chicks, a favourite pastime for the Schreiber sisters. 

Around 2005 however the family started to rent their facilities to Country Fair and stopped farming with chickens and started to look after the old vines and vineyards on the property. This coincided with that period during which high school students need to make decisions about ‘what to do with their lives’ so Fransziska went to Elsenburg to study viticulture with a focus on cellar management.

Oh how the stars aligned, cause every time Franziska would return home to the valley where she grew up there was something new and exciting happening, as more and more young hip (well, she said ‘hot’) winemakers started to flock to the Swartland. 

A few hectares away, on Kalmoesfontein, Adi Badenhorst was settling with his young family and his assistant winemaker in particular caught Franziska’s eye. Jasper Wickens worked with Adi from 2009 and was also almost always the guy who started (and finished) the party. Over the next few years, as the Swartland Revolution gathered strength (and a global following) so did the romance between Franziska and Jasper. They got married in 2016 under an oak canopy overlooking thé waterfall for which the farm has its name (Waterval = Afrikaans for waterfall…) 

Mr & Mrs Wickens on their wedding day on the farm.

Exactly 10 years after he had first moved to the Paardeberg (dubbed ‘Partyberg’ under his guide) Jasper completed his last harvest (2018 vintage) on Kalmoesfontein while Franziska got the old new cellar ready for his move. 

Today she works tirelessly to supply quality grapes to a long list of clients, including SIP members Jasper (obviously), JH Meyer, AA Badenhorst, Riebeeks River and The Blacksmith Wines, as well as Ryan Mostert’s Terracura, Paul Jordaan’s Bosberaad, John Secombe, Samantha Suddons’ Vinevenom and Marras Wines to name a few.

She believes in long term relationships, in order to work with the winemaker, planning and playing around through trials and tribulations, to find what works best.

Does she have a favourite vineyard? A very difficult question apparently as “they are all my children”, but to this female farmer two stand out. 

The Tiernes Chenin Blanc vineyard (from where Jasper makes a single vineyard wine of the same name) is a 39 year old remote block, battling dassies and baboons. Besides its breathtaking scenery towards the west (with views all the way to Riebeek Mountain) the vines here also tell a story through their old shapes. For Franziska it is “incredible to work with, trying to show what they have in them with integrity and dignity.”

Tiernes the vineyard illustrated by friend Sarah-Jane Jordaan, for the single vineyard wine’s label.

On the other hand there is ‘the young grenache vineyard’ which hubby Jasper blends into his Swerwer Red. Franziska chose this spot (where her dad took out a struggling block of Cabernet Sauvignon) and planted grenache in 2013. This vineyard, also right up against the fynbos of the mountain and facing west, has lovely natural features like “rock trees” growing from granite boulders. The best thing for Franziska about farming this one is that she still gets to “shape them into potential as with an open canvas, you can be creative.” 

Young Grenache vineyard from two angles, with its granite boulders ‘rock trees’ and view towards Riebeek Mountain in the distance. Photos by Helena Sheridan.

For the last ten years this family of farmers have been planting new varieties every year (about 1ha every year) based on interest or demand for grapes suited to their terroir. Certainly a farmer and wine making family to keep an eye on, as the couple’s son James grows up amongst the vines and vats as a fourth generation Paardeberger.

Jasper, James and Franziska Wickens, photographed in front of the cellar by Daréll Lourens for Postcards from a vine.