In early 1997 engineer Andrew Gunn decided on a career move and left Johannesburg to begin the search for the ‘perfect’ farm. Forty farm visits later, he stumbled upon a solitary run down apple and pear farm on a mountain top overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. The property has no agricultural neighbours as it is surrounded by the Kogelberg Biosphere Reserve and a forestry area. The situation of the farm, 420 meters above sea level and overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, the run down Herbert Baker homestead, and the view from the front of the house overlooking the Elgin Valley below, made up his mind.
Having always been a lover of wine, and on investigation into climate and soils, Andrew – with the help of his uncle, Professor Ronnie Savigear, a well know geomorphologist – established that the farm was unique in the South African context, with a climate somewhere between Bordeaux and Sancerre in France but with the advantage of a lower summer rainfall, a warmer Spring and Autumn and with the post glacial alluvial soils, making it perfect for wine production.
With the focus initially on Sauvignon Blanc, with some Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, the first vineyards were planted in 1998, followed by Chardonnay and Semillon and Pinot Noir. Grapes are picked up to two months later than other wine producing area of South Africa and in a short space of time from the first vintage in 2001, Iona – renamed after the island off the West Coast of Scotland, where Andrew’s ancestors hail from (hence the Viking longboat emblem on their labels) – became one of South Africa’s top producers of Sauvignon Blanc.
Natural methods of feeding, mulching and protecting the Iona vineyards are employed with no synthetic fertilizers, no snail pellets and no insecticides. Only compost made using biodynamic methods and preparations is used. Five cows, which provide quality manure, and winter cover crops between the rows nourish and mulch the vineyards ensure vital vines and grapes.
Grapes for this single vineyard dry land farmed Chardonnay were hand-picked and spent overnight in a cold room, before being whole bunch pressed. No settling enzymes were used, resulting in juice containing more solids. This wine was 100% wild fermented in a selection of 300l French oak barrels (38% new, the rest in 2nd, 3rd and 4th fill barrels). The wine remained on the lees for a total of 12 months, without battonage and with seven percent malolactic fermentation to add richness and texture. Thereafter, the wine was racked and blended. The wine was fined and stabilized naturally for a period of three months before bottling.