In early 1997, Andrew Gunn, an engineer by training was contemplating his next career move. A lover of the outdoors, the prospect of farming appealed to him and he was undaunted by starting a second career. After months of searching and 40 farm visits later, Andrew stumbled upon a solitary run down apple farm on a mountain top in Elgin overlooking the Atlantic Ocean.
Iona’s farm, named “Geelbeksvlei”, is one of the coolest vineyards in the Cape, 420m above sea-level, high above the picturesque Elgin Valley. Iona is surrounded by the Kogelberg Nature Reserve and overlooks the Atlantic Ocean in the South. In a country where cool sites are precious, these vineyards are highly valued — the grapes ripening up to two months later than most other Cape vineyards.
The philosophy at Iona is simply to make wine that expresses the soils and climate as closely as possible, making use of sustainable farming methods and to maximise the use of natural products in farming and winemaking.
Iona’s talented winemaker Werner Muller recently popped in to show me his new vintage releases from Elgin. One wine in particular caught my eye…
Iona Sauvignon Blanc 2016, Elgin
This is yet another very impressive 2016 white from the drought vintage. But as winemaker Werner pointed out, the 3 farms than now make up Iona, thrive in the hot, dry vintages due to their cool proximity to the sea. This Sauvignon Blanc has 4% Semillon that was barrel fermented. The wine is rich and opulent with lifted aromatics of yellow stone fruits, pineapple pastille sweets, yellow citrus and just a subtle, quincy hint of oak. The palate is textural and broad but also wonderfully fresh and vibrant with a lovely sweet/sour acidity, crystalline yellow grapefruit, a wet straw grassiness and a long concentrated finish of green melon, ripe papaya skins and freshly cut pineapple. A very attractive wine from this quality focused winery.
(Wine Safari Score: 93+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
South Africa’s Carsten Migliarina has made some superb Chardonnays in the past, so it was with great excitement that I tasted his new single vineyard expression from Elgin. His wine making reputation is growing by the day and so are his awards. He also works masterfully with cool climate terroirs as evidenced in the precision of his Elgin Chenin Blancs, Riesling and of course Chardonnay.
Migliarina Single Vineyard Chardonnay 2015, W.O. Elgin
At 14 Abv, you’d expect this wine to show some depth and power… and of course it does. The nose is beautifully complex with green apple skins, tart crunchy green pears and dusty minerality. But the oaking is also perfectly judged for the weight of the fruit concentration. On the nose it’s very subtle with bruleed creme caramel hints and lemon pie brightness. The oaking on the palate, at this stage, is a little more obvious, but definitely very high quality. Even with the multiple layers of pithy lemon confit, honeydew melon and caramelised fig notes, Carsten’s signature minerality prevails, dominating the finish with a real classical restraint and dusty, gravelly, Schweppes bitter lemon intensity. A fantastic expression with all the old world minerality of a top Umbrian or Friuli cool climate Chardonnay. Drink from 2018 to 2025.
(Wine Safari Score: 93+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
There are a lot of great cool climate wines being produced in the Cape, many of them originating in Elgin. But unusually, this new release is not a Chardonnay, Semillon or a Sauvignon Blanc, but a superb cool, crunchy, mineral Riesling.
Seitensprung means an “affair” or “side step” and Carsten’s idea is to make one experimental wine from a different grape variety every year. This would allow Carsten full artistic experimental freedom and no accumulative pressure or expectations, with the wines only being bottled if quality meets his high standards.
This is a one-off Riesling, itself unusual in South Africa and lovers of the variety will hopefully see some of Carsten’s German heritage in this exciting new wine.
Migliarina Wines Riesling Seitensprung 2016, W.O. Elgin, 12 Abv.
Like all Carsten’s wines, this is another serious effort. So grown up and old worldly in style. Not sure how he pulls it off time and time again, but this is so taught and mineral-laden with gravel, wet river pebbles, wet chalk, dried herbs and dry summer stable straw. The palate is a mirror image of the nose, seamlessly balanced and vibrantly fresh showing crunchy green apple, dried straw spice, pithy green pear, and incredibly rasping dry lemon complemented by crystalline purity and framed by profound liquid minerality. This is a very classy Riesling unlike anything I’ve tasted recently in South Africa, built more in a structured German Nahe or Rhinegau Trocken style. Superb wine. Glückwunsch Carsten!
(Wine Safari Score: 92+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)