A few weeks ago I took a journalist to meet a chap who smokes salmon. Mike who smokes the salmon is a one man band outfit based in the remote Ettrick Valley. I thought I should take a bottle of wine to go alongside the salmon and since the salmon is the best I’ve ever tasted I thought the wine had better match, so I chose a Sauvignon Blanc made by a chap called Andrew Gunn in an equally remote location up in the mountains above the Elgin Valley in South Africa.
For me, South Africa makes Sauvignon Blanc in a style that sits somewhere between the extrovert New Zealand style and the restrained style that characterises the French Loire wines. I feel the finest wines from South Africa are to be had from cooler climate vineyards such as those in the Elgin Valley. Iona Vineyard has perhaps the coolest climate of them all because of its amazing location.
Iona Vineyard sits at well over 400 metres above sea level. It was a run down farm of apple and pear trees when Andrew Gunn bought it. He’d looked at dozens of possible vineyards to buy and instead of choosing a vineyard in an established wine region he decided to start from scratch in a location that was remote and almost untried when it came to making wine. The vineyard is situated high above the Elgin Valley which is around fifty miles east of Cape Town and within sight of the sea.
I first met Andrew a few years ago not far from Elgin. Not the Elgin Valley of South Africa but rather the town of Elgin in the Scottish Highlands. In the company of the wine merchant who shipped his wines, he called in on me at my home and we tasted his wines.
Because of its high and cool location the grapes at Iona Vineyard aren’t ripe until close on two months after most South African vineyards. However that extended ripening season adds quality. The vines are planted in blocks – each block may be a different clone and may be trellised facing a different direction to another block. Each block of grapes is then harvested when that block is ripe and again each block is vinified separately. This represents a massive amount of complicated work but the objective is to make fine wine not simply good wine.
Andrew Gunn is clearly on a mission to make as fine a wine as possible so his wine isn’t exactly cheap but given the labour of love and the thought that goes into it, I think it is worth every penny. Having tasted countless Sauvignon Blanc wines over three decades I would say that all the hard work here pays dividends. The wine is gorgeous. When I swirl a glassful, the smell I get first and last is green apples and since Iona vineyard was once an orchard, that’s perhaps fitting.
Iona Sauvignon Blanc. 2013, Elgin, South Africa is available from the following stockists: Majestic Wines, David Bell MacCraith at Bristol, Waitrose Cellar, The Wine Society, Villeneuve Wines at Edinburgh and Peebles, KWM Wines at Kilkeel, Northern Ireland.