Since the late 1990’s when Andrew Gunn bought and planted the Iona estate, the focus of production has been on Sauvignon Blanc, with Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot being the first vineyards planted in 1998, followed by Chardonnay, Semillon and Pinot Noir. In these early days, no one could have known the true quality potential of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir in the Elgin region.
With the new Monopole varietal releases from Iona in 2020, quality has been taken up a notch or two and when I reviewed the full range last year with Rozy Gunn in London just before lockdown 1.0, I realised these were indeed very special wines worthy of all the home market hype. I recently had a chance to taste some of the follow up releases and of course, I was intent on finding out whether the fabulous 2017 Kloof Monopole Chardonnay had just been a fluke or if this wine really was a new budding Grand Cru creation in the South African wine landscape.
Clones are CY95, CY96 and 227 grown on soils with large deposits of rocky quartzite silica with underlying clay with a north facing aspect and east / west row direction. The pruning style is cane double guyot.
After a block buster performance from the maiden 2017 Kloof Chardonnay and an impressive score to match, all eyes were on Andrew Gunn and the Iona team to see what they could pull out the bag in 2018. Once again, the vineyard and its terroir are the winner with a decidedly classical slant on the wine once again, boasting complex aromatics of crushed rocks and flint, gravel and white citrus with hints of green Granny Smith apples and spicy lemon grass. The palate reveals wonderful clarity and definition, precise crystalline white citrus fruits, tangy acids and a perfectly weighted, harmonious length that is so pure and detailed with a delicious finale of orange citrus zest. A very distinguished wine that’s establishing a growing quality reputation for itself. Drink from release and over 10-12+ years.
I have been following Iona and their delicious cool climate wines for many years. So naturally, I was thrilled to be contacted in February 2020 by owner Andrew Gunn, who invited me to join him for an exciting new release tasting in London profiling their new single vineyard wines that have been vinified to specifically portray the unique micro climates and soil types of the Iona Elgin Highlands.
Just a few weeks before we were due to meet, I received an email from Rosie Gunn, Andrew’s wife and partner in the Iona winery, to inform me that Andrew had unfortunately had a terrible fall off a ladder on the farm and had broken a number of bones, so she would be making the trip to London in his place. On the 5th March, I met up with Rosie and Marketing Manager Brad Gold at Trivet, one of London’s most exciting new restaurant openings, to taste through their fantastic new range of wines.
From each main red and white wine selection, Iona has teased out two single vineyard Pinot Noirs and two Chardonnays, with only 500 bottles of each wine produced. This range is also joined by the Iona Elgin Highlands range of whites and reds along with the Solace Syrah produced from the nearby Brocha farm, where Rosie used to live and which is farmed organically with its ultra rocky soils, warmer growing temperatures and a lower rainfall.
10 barrels were produced from mostly younger vines. Using 115, 667, 777 Pinot Noir clones, the wine was aged 11 months in barrel with a low solids content to avoid too much racking.
Bright tart aromatic profile full of crushed cranberry and rose petals, Turkish delight and potpourri perfume. Pristine, linear and pin point in the mouth, the acids frame the palate beautifully with attractive red berry fruits, cherry and hints of pomegranate. Pure, intense but with sufficient open, accessible fruit depth and lovely complexing minerality on the finish.
(Wine Safari Score: 92/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
The new single vineyard wines all come from the dry 2017 vintage. A cool winter ensured good vine dormancy and rainfall was low, similar to 2015 and 2016. Flowering took place a little earlier than usual in warm sunny conditions, with the vines cropping slightly higher than usual but producing exceptional fruit quality and concentration. Grapes were harvested from late February to mid-March and yielded exceptional quality with pristine fruit purity, high natural acidity, real intensity of fruit flavour and a signature elegance that marked all the wines of 2017.
Clones 667, 115 and 777. Around 5 to10% of whole bunches used from soils with large deposits of silica quartz with underlying clay with a North facing aspect and East / West row direction.
A more pronounced minerality of chalk board duster and crushed limestone that comes through on the aromatics as spice and complex sapidity. It melts into dried potpourri, raisined cranberry, pithy red cherry and wild strawberry notes. Cool, sleek, crystalline, this is grown up Pinot Noir that opens up in the glass to display beautiful notes of red cherry sherbet and pink musk together with struck quartz minerality. Polished texture, harmonious and super classy effort from a great vintage.
(Wine Safari Score: 94+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
Iona Monopole Kroon Pinot Noir 2017, WO Elgin, 13.63 Abv.
Clones 115 and 777. Around 5 to10% of whole bunches used from soils with alluvial gravel beds, sandstone and ferrocrete (iron) with underlying clay with a South facing aspect and North / South row direction.
A slightly deeper, darker, bloodier aromatic expression with notes of pomegranate, blood orange, spiced red cherries with a fabulous mineral under vein of wet river stones. Hints of sweet and sour together with intense salinity meet your palate on the entry. This wine displays the same high pedigree polished marble tannins as the Kloof cuvee but with a touch more flesh and savoury, pithy red fruit on the finish. Another very impressive Pinot Noir expression.
(Wine Safari Score: 93/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
Iona Monopole Elgin Highlands Chardonnay 2018, WO Elgin, 13.25 Abv.
Dusty, smoky, spicy yellow fruits blend into wet river stone minerality, rain on grey slate and pithy green apple and yellow grapefruit intensity. Fleshy, glycerol but fabulously concentrated, piercing and intense. The oaking is super intelligent and the integration of crystalline fruit and acidity vibrancy perfectly judged. A really delicious Chardonnay that will get a lot of drinkers very excited.
(Wine Safari Score: 93+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
Iona Monopole Kloof Chardonnay 2017, WO Elgin, 13.64 Abv.
Clones CY95, CY96 and 548 from soils with large deposits of silica quartz with underlying clay with a North facing aspect and East / West row direction.
Classic complex mix of liquid minerality, struck flint and crushed gravel melt gently away into nuances of lemon citrus peel, spicy lemon grass and earthy papaya skins. Bold, brazen and super focused, this wine has wonderful lines of acidity and cool, white citrus tension backed by an enthralling chalky limestone mineral pithy complexity. Exquisite intensity and concentration make for a very serious glassful. A truly outstanding South African Chardonnay expression!
(Wine Safari Score: 95/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
Iona Monopole Fynbos Chardonnay 2017, WO Elgin, 13.72 Abv.
Clones CY95, CY96 and Rustenburg from soils with alluvial gravel beds, sandstone with underlying clay with a North facing aspect and North West / South East row direction.
Made from grapes grown on a slightly heavier soil with more northerly aspect, this wine shows a bolder, richer, riper expression on the nose with lemon and lime cordial, lemon bon bons, apple pastille and green rock candy seduction. Plush and beautifully textured with more savoury, stony, green plum notes layered with lemon herbs, citrus spice and a splendidly long, concentrated green stone fruit finish. Very showy and confident.
(Wine Safari Score: 94+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
Iona Solace Syrah 2017, WO Elgin, 14.1 Abv.
Saline, purple bright fruits full of black saline intensity, salty black liquorice and supple, glassy, tart savoury intensity. Classy, classical and very cool and refined packed with black cherry, black pepper corns and blueberry pie nuances. A real evolution in style that perhaps works better for Elgin’s cooler vineyards than previous bigger, more extracted styles of Solace. This wine seems perfectly judged on so many levels.
A super exotic complex Sauvignon Blanc nose packed full of tangerine, grapefruit, dusty white peach, quince and a tropical papaya fruit finish. Fleshy, delicious and super distinguished, this wine ups the ante and delivers an impressively complex, serious glass of Sauvignon Blanc.
(Wine Safari Score: 93+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
Iona Sauvignon Blanc 2019, WO Elgin, 13.63 Abv.
The aromatics are filled with lemon grass and tangerine peel complexity, this wine has mouth watering vigour and enthralling allure and focus. Fabulous notes of mango and papaya, yellow citrus and green apple blend imperiously, building to a vinous crescendo on the palate with delicious, bright, fresh Sauvignon Blanc grassy nuances. This is benchmark cool climate Elgin Sauvignon Blanc that really ticks all the pleasure boxes.
(Wine Safari Score: 92+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
The two main concerns you think about when producers shake up their range of wines in the way Iona have, is whether the new single vineyard wines will detract from the overall quality of the larger blends that came before them and whether the new single vineyard wines will be sufficiently different and interesting enough to merit the whole vineyard partitioning exercise. While I certainly had my favourites, I can confirm that the whole new range is very well conceived and the wines are truly unique in their own ways. They are also exceptionally good quality.
In London pricing, they are also not ridiculously priced, making them accessible to both restaurant buyers and Chardonnay aficionados alike. Exciting times indeed for Iona wines. By the time Andrew reads these reviews, I certainly hope he will be well on his way to recovery. Catch you in London on your next trip!
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.