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In the Beginning
In early 1997, Andrew Gunn, an engineer by training was contemplating his next career move. Having always loved the outdoors, the prospect of farming appealed to him and feeling young and energetic enough to start a new career, left the hustle and bustle of Johannesburg to begin the search for the ‘perfect’ farm.
After months of searching and 40 farm visits later, Andrew and a very tired estate agent stumbled upon a solitary run down apple farm on a mountain top overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. The prospect of a suitable farm in Elgin intrigued Andrew and on driving through the valley, he became excited by the beauty of the area. Surrounded by the Kogelberg Biosphere and Forestry the property had no agricultural neighbours. The rolling hills and the drive up the mountain to where the farm was situated, 420 meters above sea level, overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, was unlike anything he had ever seen. It was love at first sight.
As he drove in and stopped in front of a rather run down Herbert Baker homestead, he felt, “this is where I would like to live”, and the view from the front of the house overlooking the Elgin Valley below, made up his mind.
From Orchards to Vineyards
This beautiful farm, named “Geelbeksvlei”, after the yellow billed ducks that inhabited the marshy area around the property, although planted to apples and pears, was proving unprofitable. In the old farming fraternity this is the point where you wait patiently for better days, but not being one to sit idle, Andrew set about immediately trying to find an alternative to apples. Having always been a lover of wine and on subsequent investigation into climate and soils, he arrived at the overwhelming conclusion that “wines are made in the vineyard, and that the best wines come from cool to moderate temperature climes, with low summer rainfall and low potential soils”.
Bearing this in mind, and with the help of his uncle, Professor Ronnie Savigear, a well know geomorphologist (the study of landforms), Andrew was able to establish 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 the production of high quality wines ---- in theory.
The Fruits of Our Labour
What happened in practice was not far off what was expected in theory. 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 2 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, became one of South Africa’s top producers of Sauvignon Blanc.
Along came a Lady
In 2003, Andrew married Rozy, a sculptor by profession and fellow converted farmer. The result, an extraordinary partnership between husband and wife, combining art, personified by Rozy, and science, through Andrew.
What its all about
Proceeding with care and gratitude in all that they do, Iona does in no way profess to be all things all people, and in the endeavour to produce a fine glass of wine from this stunning farm, focuses on four quality wines; Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and the One Man Band, an estate blend of Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot, Mourvedre and Viognier.
The philosophy at Iona is 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. Everything is done in-house. From the vineyard to the wine distribution, for Andrew and Rozy, Iona is the sole source of their focus, passion and great joy.