When Andrew Gunn, an engineer by training, early in 1997 set foot upon a solitary tired apple farm on a mountain top overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, he knew he had found the perfect farm. He named it Iona, after the island off the West Coast of Scotland where his ancestors hail from.
Gunn believed the best wines came from cool to moderate temperature climes with low summer rainfall and low potential soils. With the help of his uncle, Ronnie Savigear, a renowned geomorphologist, Gunn established that within the South African context.
The farm was unique in that it had a climate somewhere between Bordeaux and Sancerre in France. However, it but with the advantage of lower summer rainfall, a warmer Spring and Autumn and with post-glacial alluvial soils. Combined together, these make it perfect for high-quality vines.
Although uneconomically growing apples and pears, this remote, isolated and cold piece of land with its low potential soils would be transformed to become one of South Africa’s top producers of Sauvignon Blanc.
Iona Wine Estate’s unique location, climate and soil, fortified by its sustainable farming and winemaking philosophies and people-focused practices, is its recipe for success. In fact, since the estates’ first release in 2001, it has seen the brand grow from strength to strength, gaining international and local accolades along the way.
The term “monopole” (French for monopoly) refers to the fact that Iona wines are produced from grapes grown in vineyards they own exclusively and no grapes are bought or sold. This rare method of winemaking is also popular in France, particularly Burgundy.
The crown of the Elgin Highlands
In pursuit of excellence, Iona’s focus is on varieties that are suited to the cold growing conditions. These include Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.
The magnificent Elgin Highlands range represents the unique mesoclimate of the Iona Elgin Highlands and consists of a blend of the single best component of each vineyard. The four wines that make up the Elgin Highlands range include Sauvignon Blanc, Wild Fermented Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and a beautiful Pinot Noir.
There is also a limited-release single vineyard range. This gives wine lovers the opportunity to taste some of the individual components of the Elgin Highlands wine. These four outstanding wines, including Fynbos Chardonnay, Kloof Chardonnay, Kloof Pinot Noir and Kroon Pinot Noir not only look good in the wine cooler but also satisfy expectations.
If you are looking for a red, go ahead and try the One Man Band (Syrah, Cabernet blend) and Solice (Syrah).
Tasting notes of “Elegant with ripe, juicy red and black fruit; lovely white pepper and sweet, exotic spice on the nose; the entry is intense, with underlying cedarwood, followed by a long savoury, earthy finish with fine-grained tannins” characterize the One Man Band.
Meanwhile, “layers of bramble and red berry fruit, with spicy, peppery aromas; energetic and lightly rich palate that emphasises floral elements” defines Solace.
Because of these, they are bound to take up permanent residency in the wine cooler.
What makes Iona wines special?
Situated at the Southern tip of Africa, along the Cape South Coast, Elgin is the coolest wine region on the continent. Located on a mountain top at an altitude of 420 metres and overlooking the cold Atlantic Ocean, Iona boasts the highest winery in Elgin and the coolest growing season vineyards in South Africa.
2. The Iona Phenomenon
This unique combination of the short distance to the freezing Atlantic Ocean and rapid increase in altitude causes the prevailing summer South East wind to roll across the vines. As a result, it generates misty clouds that blanket the farm for days.
Known as the Iona Phenomenon, this unique phenomenon allows filtered sunlight into the canopy and protects the grapes from the African sun. The result is a slow ripening grape with perfect acidity, moderate alcohol and beautifully developed flavours.
According to the farm’s permanent weather station, they are WINKLER 2 but with a few advantages. In the growing season, Iona receives about half the rainfall of Burgundy. Moreover, it has a relatively warm spring and autumn with no frost.
This creates a reliable budding and a longer ripening period from flowering to harvesting. In any growing season, Iona receives no more than 30 hours above 30 °C, hence the vines never shut down due to high temperatures.
4. Ancient river valley soils
Stony soil is often preferred for growing wine grapes as it causes certain desirable characteristics to become prominent.
Situated on the last remaining portion of an ancient river valley formed during post-glacial geomorphic activity, Iona’s soils are essentially gravel beds derived from decomposed table mountain sandstone, sedimentary deposits and quartzite. The composition of the soil allows the vines to penetrate the deep moisture-rich clay underlay, eliminating water stress.
5. Dignity beyond payroll
People are an integral part of Iona’s success. With 20 families living on the farm and up to 35 years of service, the staff turnover is very low. Workers are shareholders and not only receive pension funds but also education and social support. Preferring to employ people, rather than machines, all vineyard practices are done by hand.
Surrounded by the UNESCO-certified Kogelberg Biosphere, Iona Wine Estate holds unparalleled beauty. The same is true for the estate’s art. Gunn’s wife, Rozy is a classically trained artist and sculptor and her artworks add to the complexity, richness and variety of Iona. The farm is open to visitors from Monday to Friday from 09h00 to 17h00 and by appointment only on weekends.