How Iona Wine Farm’s artfully sustainable approach brings about quality quaffing

The unique Iona Wine Farm is situated in Elgin in the Western Cape, surrounded by the UNESCO-certified Kogelberg Biosphere. It is the highest altitude winery in Elgin and home to the coolest-growing season vineyards in South Africa. RealIPM have been working with Iona Wine Farm co-proprietor Rozy Gunn for several years to enable the sustainable approach in parts of the farm.

The philosophy at Iona is to make wine that expresses the soils and climate as closely as possible, using sustainable farming methods and maximising the use of natural products in farming and winemaking. Everything is done in-house, from the vineyard to the wine distribution. For Rozy and her husband Andrew, Iona is the sole source of their focus, passion and great joy.

From artist to agriculturalist

We recently had the privilege of sitting down with Rozy Gunn, who bought her farm about 20 years ago—a big change from lecturing at the Wits and Pretoria Technikon and working as a sculptor.

Rozy acquired her land during the “euphoric” period of wine farms popping up in the Elgin region, which was originally known as ‘apple country’. But farmers were beginning to realise that vines fared very well in the same environment, and were possibly an alternative to apples.

Thus, Rozy planted her first vines in 10 hectares of the 35-hectare farm in 2002, despite very poor soil and a ‘fertility rating’ of 3/10. Rozy’s land is known as Brocha Farm. Here, she takes her own farming approach.

No more conventional cowboys here!

For the first three years, Rozy farmed using conventional methods. It was the “standard” thing to do, and she didn’t know any other way. But with a passion for art and a holistic outlook on life, Rozy is a firm believer in harmonious living. She practices yoga, meditates and tries to live a connected, spiritual life. And she treats her farm the same.

“You can’t wake up at five every day, do yoga, meditate and then go spray like a cowboy,” she says.

Rozy is also a very hands-on farmer, who believes that “the eye of the master fattens the flock”.

She says: “Not every farmer sits on the tractor spraying their crops, so they aren’t acutely aware of the harshness of the chemicals they use.”

Rozy soon realised the negative impact conventional farming practices had on the vines, grapes and land, and she decided to adopt a more organic/holistic approach on Brocha farm. Rozy immediately transitioned to biological products; going “cold turkey” off synthetic chemicals and products.

In her first year of a more organic approach, Rozy saw good results. However, things changed in years two and three when weeds were growing out of control and choking the vines, almost leaving her bankrupt. Her consultant suggested using a combination of chemical and biological products as her land and plants got used to the new approach (in her case, using a herbicide once a year). They started weeding by hand in 2015, and bought a Clemens weeder in 2018 so that weeds were no longer a major issue.

Today, Rozy adopts a holistic approach to farming. She believes that if you treat the land and the vine with respect and care, it will provide a quality grape. And the proof is in the bottle, with the likes of her esteemed One Man Band Red and Solace Syrah wines. Rozy even brings her artistic flair into her farming practice, with her new vines positioned in arced rows on the mountainside to create visual movement in the rows and to honour the geography.

Some of the sustainable farming techniques used on the Brocha farm include mulching, composting, physical weed removal, use of beneficial insects combined with beneficial fungi and bacteria, raptor poles, vine collars, cover crops between the rows, and ground covers below the vines.

The result is a profitable wine farm operation, focusing on crop quality rather than huge yields, because a high-quality crop leads to a high-quality wine. Even though Brocha Farm’s production may not match the yield quantities of other conventional wine farms, its input costs are lower. And because Rozy isn’t over-treating her vines, she isn’t always cutting them back and trying to control them. With lower overheads, the farm’s bottom line can reflect similar results as conventional farms, despite a lower yield.

Product partners

Using her natural intuition, Rozy follows what she feels is right for her mindset, her land, and her pocket; always following the holistic approach of using non-chemical products wherever possible.

Rozy takes comfort in working with realIPM. She knows realIPM Managing Director Jean Kuiper and what goes into realIPM’s products. She trusts the whole offering, including the Zylem products. One of her go-to products is Zylem’s Sea Brix°™, which contains natural ingredients to stimulate important processes such as photosynthesis.

Along with beneficial insects, Rozy uses realIPM’s biofungicide Real Trichoderma, and their bioinsecticde, Real Metarhizium 69 to manage insect pests.

A solid farming foundation

Rozy’s method of farming reflects her intention, which she compares to the four legs of a chair. Her farming foundation is built on four pillars: social aspect, environmental sustainability, financial success and a quality product. And her sustainable approach brings all four together to create a profitable enterprise that produces incredible wines.

It’s been said that “wine is the only artwork you can drink”. The creative blend between two visionaries—engineer and sculptor turned wine farmers—along with a focus on quality and sustainability contributes to the beauty in every bottle of Iona wine.