• Iona’s Andrew Gunn on cool climate wines from Elgin

    Iona sits on the southern most tip of South Africa and has developed to become one of the region of Elgin’s most prominent producers making elegant cool climate wines strongly influenced by the maritime winds. Peter McCombie MW talks to Iona’s founder Andrew Gunn and looks back at his wines from the 2021 vintage and also hears how sustainability, both in the farm and how he looks after his workers, is such a key part of Iona’s DNA.

    Iona sits on the southern most tip of South Africa and has developed to become one of the region of Elgin’s most prominent producers making elegant cool climate wines strongly influenced by the maritime winds. Peter McCombie MW talks to Iona’s founder Andrew Gunn and looks back at his wines from the 2021 vintage and also hears how sustainability, both in the farm and how he looks after his workers, is such a key part of Iona’s DNA.

    By April 6, 2022

    Peter McCombie MW has known Andrew Gunn a long time, but due to Covid-19 has not seen him for a good while. Here he was able to catch up on what has been happening at his Iona Wine Farm in Elgin during a recent visit to London.

    About Iona

    Iona’s proximity to the sea allows it make cool climate wines

    Iona is located at the most southerly point of the African continent in Elgin. It’s easy to default to visions of heat and dust when thinking about South African vineyards, but Elgin is South Africa’s coolest wine region. At 450 metres altitude Iona’s vineyards might just have the coolest growing season in the country. The prevailing south-easterly wind in the summer rolls in from the cold Atlantic Ocean nearby and as it rises swiftly over the land, brings clouds that screen the vineyard canopy from some of the heat of the sun. The result is a growing season that is long and slow, allowing full flavour development, without excessive alcohol and with impeccable acidity.

    Apples or vines?

    Andrew Gunn bought the farm that is now called Iona in 1997, intending to grow apples. Inspired by Nelson Mandela’s vision for a new South Africa, where people could work together to make the country great, he decided to invest in something that he could do for the rest of his life. But a collapse in the market meant it wasn’t apples, but grapes and wine that became his focus.

    Respect for employees and land

    Iona supports a local community of over 30 people and their families and runs its own worker equity scheme

    Claims of sustainability in wine today are almost mandatory and perhaps because of that, sometimes viewed with cynicism. The Gunn’s commitment to social and environmental responsibility is real. Iona is a responsible employer, which supports it’s community of over 30 employees and their families (who after 10 years have a legal right to live on the farm permanently), has a worker equity scheme and trains all workers in a full range of farming and winemaking skills, while paying double minimum wage. They believe in respect for the land and the soil and employ organic and biodynamic principals. They believe it is right to spend more and get less, rather than seek cheap or quick fix solutions.

    Wines tasted

    Sauvignon Blanc 2021 is fresh and fragrant, quite primary still with floral flecked orchard fruit. There’s none of the pea-shoot greenness of some other South African Sauvignons, but neither is it as full-tilt fruity as many New Zealanders. It’s tangy and redolent of fresh lemonade with a squeeze of grapefruit. Fermented with indigenous yeasts in 500 litre used barrels. 5% Semillon. After a trip to Sancerre, Gunn is an advocate of long hang time for Sauvignon, because it provides fruit sweetness without residual sugar.

    Sauvignon Blanc 2001 is holding up remarkably well for 21 year old. It’s still fresh, though showing a pleasing vegetal evolution, without excessive pungency – haybarns, rather than asparagus and tinned peas. The palate shows a restrained richness with a lovely mineral streak.

    Andrew Gunn is working exclusively with Alliance Wine in the UK

    Iona has four Chardonnay vineyards, planted with a number of clones, with varying aspects and row directions. Grapes are whole bunch pressed and fermented in Burgundian barrels (20-30% new) with indigenous yeasts, then aged 12 months in barrel, followed by 3 months on stainless steel.

    Iona Chardonnay 2014 was voted best Chardonnay in the Six Nations competition a while back. It’s showing some savoury, toasty development now, with honey and nuts. It’s rounded and smooth with an invigorating backbone and a lick of lemon on the finish. Good drinking now.

    Elgin Highlands Monopole Chardonnay 2020 was youthful, with understated fruit, a little oak seasoning and a spark of minerality. It’s lively, tangy and mouth-watering, drinking nicely now, but arguably still on the young side. Lovely balance and freshness.

    Kloof Single Vineyard Limited Release Chardonnay 2018 seemed more evolved than the 2014, with a hint of nuttiness, perhaps revealing some bottle variation. It was still very “Chardonnay” with some notes of oyster shells and acacia and a palate offering richness and body with lively acidity.

    Fynbos Single Vineyard Limited Release Chardonnay 2018 offered complex, teasing aromas, encompassing savoury, spicy and medicinal herbal notes. Fresher and less evolved than Kloof it had a refreshing lime flecked palate with a long, saline finish.

    Pinot Noir

    Andrew Gunn makes elegant cool climate wines across Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir

    It’s perhaps no surprise that Pinot Noir in South Africa has found a home in cool coastal zones like Elgin. Elgin Highlands Pinot Noir 2018 is sourced from Iona’s five estate vineyards. It is attractive savoury Pinot, red fruit aromas spiked with gentle spice and a whiff of dried herbs and lovely varietal expression of raspberry, pepper, with a back note of hedgerow. There is appealing, lingering fruit sweetness and a fine, dry finish. With moderate concentration, it’s not a blockbuster, offering freshness and youthful appeal.

    Kloof Single Vineyard Limited Release Pinot Noir 2018 is ripe and quite open, with a youthful, bright palate that is tighter and fresher than the nose suggests. Nice drinking.

    Kroon Single Vineyard Limited Release Pinot Noir 2018 is initially tighter and less expressive compared to Kloof, but in the glass seems to reveal more complexity, with dried herbs and pot pourri interwoven with bright red currant and raspberry fruit. It tastes fresh and juicy, with hedgerow and autumnal undertones, with a firm-ish, dry finish. It’s delicious.

    Solace is a Syrah from Andrew’s wife Rozy’s vineyard. It is farmed more or less biodynamically , with minimal intervention in winemaking, fermented mostly in stainless steel.

    Solace 2014 is an alluring, yet subtle cool climate Syrah, offering smoke and spice, violet and pepper. It seems to tighten up in the glass and it lacks the lush fruitiness we might expect from New Zealand, reinforcing the old saw that South African wine, seems to sit stylistically between France and the New World. There is an austerity here, yet it’s balanced with substance and weight.

    Solace 2020 is youthful and backward, not giving too much away aromatically. In the mouth it reveals more; savoury tinged red and black fruit flavours, fresh and firmly structured, with considerable potential.

    • Iona is distributed in the UK through Alliance Wine. If you would like to find our more about the wines and what is available in the UK then contact orders@alliancewine.com.
    • Alliance Wine is a partner supplier to The Buyer. 

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