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Sine Qua Non Winery

California Wine, Ventura

About Sine Qua Non Winery and Vineyard

The winery was founded in 1993, with 28 acres of land and production close to 3,000 bottles a year. Owner Manfred Krankl is an artist, not only is he the founder of Sine Qua Non Winery he designs the "labels every year giving them an Austrian look. The labels are different every year, just as the wines are different.

The ultimate garage wine from southern California emanates from a rusty warehouse that appears to be on the wrong side of the railroad tracks running through Ventura. The winery's name is Sine Qua Non (literally translated from Latin means "without which one cannot".), and as the proprietors'(the husband and wife team of Elaine and Manfred Krankl) indicate on the label of their sumptuous 1997 Syrah called Imposter McCoy, "the truth is inside". Sine Qua Non has been producing 2,000-3,000 cases of wine for a half-dozen vintages. In this short time it has become one of the hottest and most desired wine producers in California. Elaine and Manfred Krankl are both very involved in the production of artisinal wines from their small garage/warehouse. Manfred Krankl, a tall, handsome man with a wicked sense of humor, was born in Vocklabruck, a small Austrian village, but grew up in Enns, where he received training at a small hotel school. A small-town guy who wanted to see the world, his travels took him to head waiter/sommelier positions in Kitzbuhl, youth hostels in Toronto, Canada, where he held odd jobs until he got bored and took a freighter to Greece, where he proceeded to run out of money and returned home penniless. It was in Greece where he met Nancy Silverton, who convinced him to come to Los Angeles. There he held various jobs, first as a cheese specialist for an up-scale wine shop in Beverly Hills, and later as the general manager/food and beverage director of a hotel in Westwood. His interest in wine and food continued to accelerate, and in 1989, along with Nancy Silverton and Mark Peel, he formed a partnership and opened what remains one of the country's most fashionable LA restaurants, La Campanile. To no one's surprise, Manfred persuaded his partners that he should be the wine buyer. Because the owners had a hard time finding good bread for their restaurant, the same year they opened La Brea Bakery, which became an overnight success. San Diego-born Elaine Krankl, a diminutive charmer with a singular high-toned, squeaky voice, met Manfred Krankl at La Campanile, and they were married in 1990. Managing the bakery and restaurant was fun, but following their marriage Manfred began to pursue backyard winemaking (the historical precursor of garage wines), producing a tiny 200-case lot of Chardonnay called The Thief (made at the Babcock Winery with assistance from Bryan Babcock). Consumers were excited by the wine, and kept asking the Krankls about their next vintage. In partnership with the Coppo brothers from Piedmont, fifty cases of an unusual blend of Barbera, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Freisa were produced. The wines were well-received, and it became clear to both Krankls that their passion for turning grapes into wine was overtaking their interest in bread baking, restaurant management, and wine buying.

While purchasing all the wine for La Campanile, Manfred Krankl wondered what it was that made the world's great wines so extraordinary. As he discovered, there was no precise formula for the winemaking, but the people behind the wines shared many of the same characteristics, including 1) a boundless passion for wine, 2) a heart and soul approach to wine production that compelled them to follow their instincts, and 3) a naturalness/gentleness that viewed wine as a living substance that could be easily bruised, and if excessively manipulated, irreparably damaged. All of this made sense since Krankl had noticed that producing fine bread also required a non-interventionalistic, hands-off philosophy in addition to an unwavering commitment to excellence.

Elaine and Manfred's interest in winemaking quickly developed into a passion. Their first serious commercial venture was a Syrah called Black and Blue, which was made at Napa's Havens winery in 1992. This was followed by an assortment of oddly-named offerings under the Sine Qua Non moniker. These included the Queen of Spades in 1994, Red Handed, The Bride, and The Other Handed in 1995, Omadhaun and Poltroon, Eclipse, Against the Wall, and The Complicator in 1996, and currently, Twisted and Bent, Imposter McCoy, and Veiled in 1997. The funky labels have all been reproductions of Manfred Krankl's artwork, and the wines are put in heavy, antique bottles that seem intentionally designed to provoke lower back pain. Most importantly, the wines are undeniably distinctive, individualistic, and brilliant. In short, this is wine geek code for "they taste real good". Elaine Krankl looks for "accessibility, fullness, and length", as well as a wine that is "completely alive". She accuses her husband of thinking more long-term, and he tends to agree, claiming that she has a more visceral reaction to wine quality, which he admires. Manfred claims to be the analyst, trying to project what the wine will taste like in the future. They make no secret (and are in agreement) about their favorite producers. First and foremost, these include the late Jacques Raynaud of Château Rayas in Châteauneuf du Pape, followed by Henri Jayer in Burgundy, California's Helen Turley, France's Gérard Chave, François Raveneau, and Marcel Guigal, and Italy's Elio Altare. The Krankls' ultimate goal is to own a vineyard and to grow grapes. To date, all of the wines have been produced from purchased fruit. After a few forays into northern California, all the fruit since 1994 has come from Santa Barbara, the region they believe has the greatest potential for Rhône Valley-styled wine (known in the vernacular as "Rhône Rangers"). Until they began making wine at their own garage/warehouse facility in 1997, they produced wine at the Ojai Vineyard in Ojai and at the Alban Vineyard in San Luis Obispo. The Syrah utilized in The Queen of Spades, Red Handed (blended with Grenache and Mourvèdre), The Other Handed, Against the Wall, and Imposter McCoy has largely come from the Alban Vineyard, although this has recently been supplemented by grapes from both the Bien Nacido and Stolpman Vineyards. The Roussanne and Chardonnay have come from the Alban Vineyard, and the Grenache from the Stolpman Vineyard. Their sweet wines are made from sources such as the Brander and Alban Vineyards. Their small quantities of Pinot Noir are exported from the Northwest, shipped in reefer (temperature-controlled) trucks from Oregon's Willamette Valley Shea Vineyard." - The Wine Advocate