ALISTAIR GIBSON: Could this be the coolest vineyard in South Africa? 

Iona Sauvignon Blanc Elgin South Africa
Iona Sauvignon Blanc Elgin South Africa

A few weeks ago I was sitting around a kitchen table at Iona wine estate with owners Andrew and Rosy Gunn and I couldn’t help but reflect on what a truly special place it was.

I get to visit many vineyards annually but Iona is one of those places which really does

Iona Chardonnay Elgin South Africa

Iona Chardonnay Elgin South Africa

take your breath away.

Situated in the Elgin region, about 90 minutes Cape Town, the farm sits at over 400m above sea level with views overlooking the Atlantic Ocean.

Andrew Gunn purchased what was then an apple farm in 1997 based on his findings that the site had a climate that was somewhere between Bordeaux and Sancerre in France but with the advantage of lower summer rainfall and with a warmer autumn that would allow grapes to hang longer on the vines.

Andrew renamed the farm Iona after the Scottish island where his ancestors come from and initially focussed on planting sauvignon blanc.

Andrew maintains that this is the coolest vineyard in South Africa and backs this up with the fact that grapes are harvested up to two months later than other South African wine producing regions.

Today there are plantings of other varieties, including Andrew’s favourite grape, chardonnay as well as pinot noir, semillon, syrah and mourvèdre. More recently nebbiolo has been planted.

The farm uses sustainable farming methods – no synthetic fertilisers or insecticides are used, and they use biodynamic methods, including their own herd of cows to make their own composts and preparations.

These are wines with a real sense of place and are some of the most focussed, purest wines you could currently taste from South Africa.

Iona Sauvignon Blanc 2017, Elgin (winesdirect.co.uk £11.95, Hermitage Cellars

£10.99) made with the addition of a little semillon to add some mid-palate weight, this is

in many ways the wine that put Iona on the map.

It’s very fresh with notes including lime, gooseberry and grapefruit, green herbs and real minerality on the nose, followed by zesty acidity, green apple and a touch of salinity on the bone-dry finish.

Without question, one of the Cape’s finest sauvignons, this is so much closer to the Loire Valley than marlborough and would be just lovely with some new season English asparagus.

Iona Chardonnay 2016, Elgin (Hennings Wine £18.99, Hermitage Cellars £15.95, The Solent Cellar £18.99) is both complex and elegant chardonnay with citrus, stone fruits, almonds and vanilla.

The palate is very focussed with well-judged acidity and a definite touch of oyster shell and a long, textured finish.

This is very grown up wine to pair with the finest fish or shellfish you can find.

In some ways Iona One Man Band 2013, Elgin (Marks and Spencer £16.00) feels like a little bit of a surprise in the Iona line-up.

It’s a blend of syrah, cabernet sauvignon, petit verdot, mourvèdre and viognier and it’s more about power and richness than Iona’s other wines.

Dark fruits, violets, mocha, Asian spices and some savoury notes on the nose, followed by more dark fruits, spice and ripe tannins.

It’s difficult not to return for another glass and it just cries out for a long roast beef Sunday lunch with all the trimmings.