Wine
California cult

Bonhams Magazine

Issue 42, Spring 2015

Page 67

Wine
California cult

Bonhams Magazine

Issue 42, Spring 2015

Page 67

Wine
California cult

Bonhams Magazine

Issue 42, Spring 2015

Page 67

An Austrian winemaker has created a following for his unorthodox wines, says Doug Davidson

While many wineries in California are often referred to as 'cult' producers, perhaps none better fits that description than the wines made by Manfred Krankl of Sine Qua Non in Ventura, California. For the past 20 years, Sine Qua Non has been producing small quantities of critically acclaimed wines that are in great demand. Despite this success, production has remained relatively miniscule, resulting in a robust secondary market for these unique creations.

Manfred Krankl and his wife Elaine began making wine in the early 1990s, with the intention of selling it at the restaurant he co-owned at the time. These first wines were made in collaboration with other Central Coast winemakers, and did not carry the Sine Qua Non name. In a style that continues today, each wine was given a distinct name and unique label for each release, all personally created by Krankl. An example of these early 'project' wines was the 1992 Black & Blue syrah and cabernet sauvignon blend, made in collaboration with Havens Wine Cellars, a bottle of which sold recently at Bonhams in San Francisco for more than $1,400. The Krankls began bottling under the Sine Qua Non name in 1994, quickly gaining recognition from wine critics such as Robert Parker, who bestowed their wines with high scores and urged his loyal followers to get on the bandwagon.

As the Krankls owned no vineyards at the time, all these early wines were produced from purchased fruit. Among their varied sources were Edna Valley roussanne from the vineyards of John Alban, syrah from Stolpman Vineyards in Ballard Canyon, and pinot noir from the Willamette Valley vineyards of Dick Shea. These are now supplemented by grapes from their own estate vineyards, starting with the 22-acre plot in the Santa Rita Hills appellation, planted in 2001, which produces syrah, grenache, roussanne, and viognier. Three small vineyards followed, two of which have yet to produce wine. They all share extremely low yields, producing fruit of great intensity and quality.

Also worth noting is the collaboration between the Krankls and famed Austrian winemaker Alois Kracher, Jr. Beginning in 1998, they produced a line of outstanding dessert wines under the Mr. K label. These wines were concentrated either through cryoextraction (the Ice Man wines), botrytis (Noble Man), or straw-mat drying (Straw Man). Their production sadly ended with the 2006 vintage, due to the death of Alois Kracher in 2007.

While Sine Qua Non has continued to increase its acreage under vine, case production is strictly limited by their very personal hands-on style of creation. As a result, the wines are predictably difficult to obtain, and directly sold only to those on their mailing list, the wait for which is somewhere between five to ten years. For those who would prefer to acquire the wines sooner, the best alternative is at auction. Bonhams is lucky enough to have a large (by comparison) assortment of Sine Qua Non wines in our San Francisco Fine & Rare Wine auction in March. They range from one of the earliest releases, the 1995 The Other Hand syrah(estimate: $300 - 400 a bottle), to the recent 2011 Dark Blossom syrah, produced from their estate vineyards (estimate: $200 - 300 a bottle). Numerous whites, rosés, and sweet wines will also be on the block. This will be a rare opportunity to acquire some of California's most singular wines.

Doug Davidson is Bonhams West Coast Director of Fine Wines.

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