Elgin wine region: visiting Iona, including a Chardonnay vertical

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Iona is one of the leading wineries in Elgin. Currently, there are 60 hectares under vine here on two sites, and 400 tons pass through the winery, which on my visit was lacking a roof. Owner Andrew Gunn took it off so he can make the winery a bit taller.

Andrew Gunn, Iona

Andrew Gunn, Iona

Winemaking here has been led by Werner Muller, who joined from Chamonix in 2011, after previous winemaker John Seccombe had left just a month before vintage.

Werner Engelbrecht

Werner Muller

Andrew had bought the property in 1998, originally intending to keep it as an apple orchard. But it was a terrible orchard, and so after he’d carried out his own climate survey of the site, decided it would be perfect for vines. Perched high up on a ridge at the top of the valley, this is a cool site with poor soils, and it makes superb wine. ‘It’s a unique site,’ says Werner. You can even see the sea from some parts of the property.

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Andrew and his wife Rozy would like to work organically, but find weed control the big obstacle. They do just one herbicide treatment a year and use no pesticides or synthetic fertilizers. They’re also trying to get rid of copper and sulphur as fungicides, and are working with microbial products such as Bacillus.

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Chardonnay is a big focus. They have 6 hectares in three blocks, and they’ve just planed another 3 hectares. It’s whole bunch pressed, and some goes straight to barrel. ‘We are all serious about Chardonnay in Elgin,’ says Werner. ‘It’s the place in South Africa to plant this variety.’

The currently roofless winery

The currently roofless winery

A new Willmes press

A new Willmes press

Iona is also very well known for its Sauvignon Blanc, which is one of the very best examples of this variety in the Cape. The regular Sauvignon is very pure and precise. I tried some barrel samples of the 2016 Sauvignon and also some Semillon, which were really impressive. This barrel-fermented stuff goes into the excellent one man band. ‘For me, how we could improve Sauvignon Blanc is through texture,’ says Werner. ‘Time in oak gives One Man Band a bit of fatness and develops flavour, without it being clumsy or overdone.’

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Iona Sauvignon Blanc 2016 Elgin, South Africa
Intense and lively with grapefruit and herb on the nose. Pristine with lovely precision on the intense palate which shows tight, crisp fruit and a touch of herbiness, as well as some salinity. Very driven and focused. Pure. 91/100

Iona Sauvignon Blanc 2003 Elgin, South Africa
You wouldn’t expect unoaked Sauvignon to age, but this has really nicely. Fresh and lively with some herby noes and nice apple and lemon notes. There’s bright grapefruit character, too, as well as a hint of cabbage. Smoky hints. 91/100

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Iona One Man Band white 2015 Elgin, South Africa
This is 60% Semillon, 40% Sauvignon, pressed whole bunch to old 500 litre barrels, wild ferment. Really complex, taut and detailed with grapefruit, aniseed and lemon notes. Compact and pure with great acidity. So fine and pure. 94/100

Iona Chardonnay 2006 Elgin, Chardonnay
Made by Niels Verburg. Lovely textured pear and peach fruit with some nice spiciness and a bit of quince. Some nutty cashew and peach skin depth, with a bit of mineral. Has aged really well. 92/100

Iona Chardonnay 2007 Elgin, South Africa
Mushroom hints on the nose with spice, pear, peach and melon richness. Bold and richly textured with sweet fruit characters. 90/100

Iona Chardonnay 2008 Elgin, South Africa
Fresh and intense with nice smooth white peach and pear fruit. Lovely textural wine showing smooth fruit and fine spiciness, with a mineral edge. Very fine. 93/100

Iona Chardonnay 2010 Elgin, South Africa
Complex, tight and toasty with nice citrus, white peach and pear fruit. Bold and balanced with lovely pear and spice notes. Has depth but also freshness. 94/100

Iona Chardonnay 2011 Elgin, South Africa
Lovely cabbage, spice and pear fruit. Nice weight. Fine spiciness complements some peach fruit on the palate. Bold yet focused with real precision. 93/100

Iona Chardonnay 2012 Elgin, South Africa
Fresh and detailed with lovely pear, citrus and mandarin characters. Shows real precision and delicacy. 94/100

Iona Chardonnay 2014 Elgin, South Africa
Lovely pear and white peach fruit with nice citrus focus. Lively with pith and nut complexity and direct fruit at its core. Real finesse to this wine. 94/100

Iona Chardonnay 2015 Elgin, South Africa
Tightly focused with a slightly mealy nose and nice citrus fruits. Tight citrus and pear fruit palate with apple and lemon characters. Linear and focused with lovely clean fruit and precise flavours. 92/100

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Iona Solace Syrah 2014 Elgin, South Africa
Just 500 cases made of this elegant Syrah. Lovely floral, peppery red fruits nose. Juicy, appley palate with freshness and structure, showing cherries, plums and spice. Expressive and balanced with a savoury twist. 94/100

Iona One Man Band Red 2010 Elgin, South Africa
Mainly Shiraz but with Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Petit Verdot and Mourvèdre in the blend. 16 months in 500 litre oak. Brooding blackcurrant and blackberry nose. Very fresh with lively, focused fruit and a bit of grippiness. Firm, spicy and gravelly. 91/100

1 comment to Elgin wine region: visiting Iona, including a Chardonnay vertical

  • The 17 Elgin producers who participated in our Chardonnay Colloquium came away inspired with a renewed commitment to taking our wines, particularly Chardonnay to another level. Your input was invaluable, thank you Jamie.

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