Jasper Wickens’s wine journey started out as curiosity, which quickly evolved into a more serious interest while working at Zevenwacht Wine Estate. There he gained valuable experience in conventional wine making practices over a two year period. He went on to graduate from Stellenbosch University with a Bachelor's Degree in Viticulture and Oenology. Jasper's first opportunity to explore the wine world abroad was in Napa Valley, Northern California. With cutting edge technology and state of the art equipment, Jasper thought he had surely reached the pinnacle of wine making. That idea changed very soon...
“Adi Badenhorst brought me down to earth, really fast and hard. Coming to the Swartland changed everything I thought I knew about the wine world. Immediately I was working in the most primitive of ways, paying with blood and sweat, to learn that good wine doesn't come without getting your hands dirty. Tasting and developing a feel for the vineyards, the grapes and what they would become was much more important.”Suddenly, Jasper found himself in a completely different environment of old bush vines, natural whole bunch fermentations, low sulphur levels and a hands-off approach. This ‘Swartland norm’ was very far from the clinically sterile approach of the cellars he had worked in before. A new found love and a passionate relationship with the ‘primitive’ ways developed faster than Jasper could keep track of, resulting in an almost ten year working relationship at AA Badenhorst Family Wines.
Throughout Jasper’s career at AA Badenhorst Family Wines, he was allowed the freedom to travel and experience new cultures of winemaking. He was particularly drawn to the ancient, steep sloped slate vineyards of Priorat, Spain. There he worked alongside Eben Sadie at Terroir-al-Limit, using traditional winemaking techniques, plowing with mules and practicing biodynamic farming for the first time. “Eben had us floating in the clouds of fine wine and philosophy, but we were actually working our asses off while having the best times of our young lives.” Crafting top wines from old vine Grenache and Carignan and drinking some of the best wines of the world had Jasper repeating this journey to Priorat yearly between 2009 and 2011.
The European harvests of 2011 and 2012 Jasper worked with Tom Lubbe at Matassa in Roussilon, France. “With Tom it was almost if a challenge was set and a desire to question every aspect of working with nature. It lead me to explore and experiment more with completely naturally made wines and a desire to be part of farming organically or even bio-dynamically.”
Moving with the seasons, working two harvest a year: a South African Swartland harvest followed by an European Priorat and Roussilon harvest, the ‘Swerwer’ was born. The curiosity and the desire to experience new and different ways of winemaking, coupled with constant exchange in energy, Jasper found it easy to pour all of his new ideas and knowledge into his own project. With Adi’s encouragement and mentorship, the production of the Swerwer wines established and slowly grew.
With the growing production of Swerwer, a reliable source of grapes was needed. It was only a matter of time before the bulk of Swerwer grapes came from Waterval farm. A number of new vineyards were planted especially for Jasper’s growing production. Grenache Noir, Cinsault and Tinta Barocca vineyards were on top of the list with a particular vision for Swerwer. “I’m extremely lucky that I got the opportunity to work with old vine Chenin Blanc and be part of the planting of new vineyards, it is almost if the Swerwer wines have found their own identity in the Siebritskloof.”
In 2016 Jasper and Franziska tied the knot under the old oak trees grandfather Cyril planted and the ‘Swerwer’s’ wings finally got clipped.The old cellar on Waterval farm was renovated and with the help of Adi, equipped. The first grapes in 50 years were finally received in January 2019. This was the start of the new chapter. “As we grow older, we try to grow wiser. Always experimenting, trying to understand this place and its vineyards better and creating wines with more purity. And also planting right for the future generations!” 2019 turned out to be a big year and James Barry was born to be the 4th generation on Waterval. “He already shows a lot of enthusiasm for the tractors, farming activities and particularly loves the vinyls playing in the cellar.
The old original vineyards that consisted mostly of Semillon, Palomino, False Pedro and Clairette Blanche were gradually re-planted over the decades. Today Chenin Blanc and Semillon dominate. It was Barry's vision to preserve much of the old original plant material in small vineyards for future generations. Today these old bush vine blocks are highly sought after by winemakers. Traditional red varieties such as Cinsault, Grenache and Tinta Barocca were also planted to compliment Shiraz, Carignan and Touriga Nacional. Today there is a healthy balance of old and young vineyards. From low yielding bushvines of the early 1960s to more recent plantings. On average, one hectare of vineyards are planted per year to stay ahead of the rejuvenation process. The location and grape variety determine if irrigation or trellising will be needed for the establishment of new vineyards.
The farm is situated on the northern side of the Paardeberg, within the Siebritskloof valley located on the southern border of the Swartland.The Paardeberg Mountain is a 500 million year old intrusion of magma and after millions of years of erosion it stands proud with its domes of granite. The mountain has a significant influence on the microclimate. The average rainfall of the farm is 550mm per year and temperatures are significantly cooler than the surrounding Swartland. As the valley runs in a north/south direction the morning and late afternoon shade directly influences the temperature and direct sunlight hours. In summer, the day and night temperature differences averages 15 - 20°C which has a positive effect on flavour development in the grapes and the retaining of natural acidity. All the vineyards are planted on granite derived soils. The soil may differ from rocky, clay-rich to deep sand or fertile loam on the valley floor.
Wine production in the old cellar was stopped in the late 1930’s with the formation of the local wine cooperative. It took almost 90 years before grapes were welcomed back to the now renovated cellar, by young winemaker Jasper Wickens. The cellar remains low tech and many traditional wine making methods are still followed. Swerwer wines are made to best express where they come from. Each grape variety is treated in such a way that it is allowed to fully express itself, this allows for a liberal approach in the cellar. A minimum intervention approach is followed as set out by the Swartland Independent Producer guidelines. The wines are fermented with no artificial additives. Care is taken not to over extract the red varieties. New oak is avoided and fining processes are never used. Only light filtration and minimal added sulphur is allowed, to keep the integrity of the wine in check after bottling.