As recently as the 1980s the SA wine industry, extrapolating from the diversity of the Cape floral kingdom, suggested that most cultivars did well on most estates. As a corollary (so the story went) pretty much every vintage was as good as pretty much any other vintage. To be fair, some of the bigger family-owned properties did have most major cultivars planted, and produced reliably solid wines in most years. Some harvests were more difficult than others — but the European experience of the 1930s, 1950s and 1960s, when half the wines of the decade were largely written off — seemed a distant universe.

Lately those responsible for promoting the various areas of origin have designed their narratives around more singular attributes. Elgin calls itself chardonnay country — even though it is home to some very good pinots and shirazes. Hemel-en-Aarde markets itself as the place of pinot, even though some of the Cape’s best chardonnays come from there. Constantia took the sauvignon b...

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