Drunk November 2013, Hawksmoor Guildhall, London
The wines of Sine Qua Non, "without which nothing" are made by the eccentric Manfred Krankle in the outer suburbs of Ventura California, in a winery described by Robert Parker as "a set scene from the movie Mad Max". This is true cult wine, it takes 6 years to get onto the waiting list for the winery. There are stories of divorcing couples fighting over the rights to their position on the list. Those on the list sometimes flip their allocation. This is when a person on the mailing list buys their allocation and then puts it on the secondary market to turn in a healthy profit, as wines will sell for two, four, six, or as much as 10 times their release price.
Krankle came to California from Austria in the early 1980's. In 1989 he opened the LA restaurant Campanile, the accompanying La Brea Bakery became a national chain of shops which Krankle sold out of in 2001. There is a excellent Forbe's article about Krankle at
Each bottle is produced in very small quantities from low yields, bought in from trusted growers in the central coast area. With little estate fruit to speak of and constantly changing tastes, Manfred Krankle rarely makes the same wine twice, prefering to be able to chop and change vineyards as he sees fit. Krankle says, "The real differentiation in my mind comes from if you’re willing to go through great lengths for a very small reward."
While this is an unorthodox approach for a quality producer it doesn't seem to affect the quality of his wines, which regularly receive Parker scores in the high 90's, very often reaching the mythical 100 mark. Robert Parker has awarded 12 Sine Qua Non wines 100-point scores so far, placing Krankl's winery well ahead of the most famous Burgundy and Bordeaux châteaux. As Krankl himself says, "People buy Sine Qua Non, they don't give a toot where it's from".
Sine Qua Non was created after the 1994 harvest of a Bien Nacido Syrah named “The Queen of Spades”. Krankl made only four and half barrels and sent a bottle to Robert Parker with a handwritten note and overnight Sine Qua Non went from just another wine label that no-one had heard of to the must-have new talent. Parker called Krankl after tasting the wine and scoring it a stupendous 95 points - the highest score an American Rhône blend have ever received. "We were going to give our home number [for customers to ring] and he said, 'You might wanna rethink that because you’re going to get a lot of calls!'”
In the last few years Manfred and his wife, Elaine, have begun creating their own vineyards dedicated to Rhone varietals. Previously, Manfred had made wines with Bryan Babcock and John Alban and still sources much of his fruit from Alban’s vineyard. Their winemaking philosophy is to work in very small batches, gravity flow, natural yeasts (unless a fermentation problem is anticipated), long lees aging for the whites and repeated racking for the reds to open them up. This is a modified explanation of a very dedicated and artistic approach to winemaking. The wines are simultaneously very rich and elegant, superbly balanced and thoroughly harmonious with food, never overwhelming.
Krankl's idiosyncrasies are a product of his laid back approach to wine. He took up winemaking as a hobby, not an occupation. He claims he never felt the pressure to “conform to be commercially successful." He has never written a business plan, has never had a budget, and in the absence of such constraints, he has operated the winery “from a rather emotional or passionate standpoint.”. “We are sort of this oddball outsider,” he admits.
Their wines really only began to hit full world-class qualitative levels in 2000. The vineyard sources have largely changed from Alban, Stolpman, Bien Nacido, Shadow Canyon and White Hawk Vineyards to primarily estate vineyards Cumulus Vineyard in Ventura County and 11 Confessions Vineyard in the Santa Rita Hills.
His reds fetch some of the highest prices of any Californian wines, according to Wine-Searcher’s statistics. The 1998 Hospice du Rhône Alban Vineyard Syrah currently sells for an average $2570 before tax while his first wine, the 1994 Queen of Spades Syrah would set you back at least $2400.
I felt very lucky to have the opportunity to try this cult wine from California, The Five Shooter Syrah 2010. Krankle sounds like a cool dude indeed and this has been on my wish list for a long time because of the price point...an outstanding £325 in a restaurant, £200 retail!
It is actually a blend of 85% Syrah, 5% Grenache, 3% Petite Sirah, 5% Roussanne, 2% Viognier.
The first thing that strikes you is how different this is to a standard Californian Syrah. Deep, deep red in the glass, really smooth on the palate with incredible floral and fruit notes on the nose. Berry, smokiness, pepper and spices. A long, long finish. Incredibly complex is all I can say...I wish I had another bottle to take my time on and figure this one out. No wonder Sine Qua Non is so difficult to get hold of in any quantity. A connoisseurs choice, some Sommeliers have been known to steer their least favoured customers to other wines! Wowsa! Shame is so crazily expensive. I guess this is a wine for a wine lovers bucket list.