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Sine Qua Non - Where Creativity and Fine Wine Meet

Sine Qua Non is renowned as much for its original Rhône style wine blends as it is for its quirky aesthetic. Established in 1994 by Manfred and Elaine Krankl, the winery’s original labels and limited production run has given it a cult-status amongst wine aficionados. This success has been quite unexpected for the pair, who didn’t start the company with a grand plan. ‘the entire winemaking adventure just started as hobby and I never thought it would turn into our life and we would still be at it decades later. I just wanted to do it and Elaine, God bless her courage, said she would support it and stick by my side. It just kept on developing from there and now… here we are.’

An Unexpected Awakening

Manfred and Elaine had both been interested in fine wine from a young age, despite neither having grown up around it. Manfred’s love came from a rather unusual source. ‘Growing up in Austria, where the overwhelming majority of the population is Roman Catholic, I had to become an Altar-Boy in Church. I hated everything about it. One of my Church-boy jobs was to go into the back and pour a wine into a small jug for the priest to use during Mass. Well, I was so ticked off for having to do it that as punishment – in my mind – I always drank some of that wine. And low and behold these priests drank way better stuff than I had ever had before. I started liking it and so every Sunday, I gave myself a little wine tasting class.’

Early Influences and Mentors

This burgeoning interest spurred Manfred to travel around Italy and France, visiting different wineries and discovering what he liked. ‘I very much fell in love with Italian wines…people like Bruno Giacosa and Gaja and eventually folks like Elio Altare and Scavino, Sandrone and Clerico… Then my deep love for Rhône wines developed- Rayas and Bonneau and wines like the 1989 Cuvee Célestines or 1989 or 1990 Château Rayas had a huge impact on me as an adult.’

Manfred came to the US with this newfound knowledge, and decided to set up his winery in Ventura County, California. ‘Discovering American winemakers Helen Turley from MARCASSIN and David Abreu created a belief that great things can be made in the good old US of A.’ In California he expanded his network, ‘Michael Havens of Havens Cellars, John Alban of Alban Vineyards, Adam Tolmach of The Ojai Vineyard and numerous others. John Alban and I became friends and we travelled together in Europe and John supplied fruit to us before we had our own vineyards.’

An Original Aesthetic


Since its foundation, a pivotal part of the Sine Qua Non brand has been its incredible label art. Manfred creates a new woodcut printed label for each release, inspired by the events happening around him. ‘The wine comes first - of course it is with us for years before a label goes on. ‘During the ‘wine-training-years’ all sorts of things happen; with the wine, with us personally and in the entire world. And so, the artwork comes about based on those experiences.’

A particularly challenging year came in 2005, ‘on a personal level, but also from a vineyard and winery perspective.’ The label on the 2005 Grenache, titled THE NAKED TRUTH and depicting a portrait of Elaine, is a reflection of these challenges. Yet it is also a reminder, to Manfred, that they conquered them. ‘The wines from that year are some of my favorites and Elaine is as charming and vigorous as ever. Looking at that label makes that wine taste even better.’ And to get even more romantic, ‘often the names and art are sort of love letters to my sweet Elaine. Sometimes that love portion may be rather cryptic and only visible to Elaine and me.’

Grenache and Syrah- Stars of the Show

Manfred makes his wines using a broad array of grapes, including Pinot Noir and Gewurztraminer. However, the majority of the red releases are made up of Grenache and Syrah. Is there a reason for this favouritism? He is quick to reply that he has no particular hang-ups on grape varieties or wines. ‘Great wines are made from a large portfolio of grapes. Naturally many of the most renowned wines in the world are made from Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.’ And although he respects these fine wines and growing areas, ‘it feels like I should wear a tuxedo and patent leather shoes. Whereas great Rhône’s have a casual sexiness and seductive quality that it is tough to resist. Even young. I am drawn more to that licentiousness - I don’t quite know what else to call it… I do like ripe wines. Big, flavourful wines without becoming grotesque, and Rhône varieties love (maybe even NEED) ripeness.’

Experimenting with Graciano

Although with obvious favourites, Sine Qua Non is also known for its experimentation. Manfred has recently been working with Graciano, a lesser-known Spanish and Southern French grape. ‘We have winemaking friends in Spain too and many of them had told us about Graciano. It is not easy to find pure or almost pure Graciano even in Spain, but what we did find a taste we liked. We thought our growing conditions would be ideal for it. Graciano needs to be quite ripe to show its guns and it has high acidity.’ Somewhat inevitably, he leads the conversation back to Rhône:

‘I always claim that maybe it is really a Rhône grape, but somehow somebody made a mistake (maybe God himself) and now Manfred has to fix it.’

The Benefits of Long Barrel Aging

Another mainstay of Sine Qua Non has been a focus on special releases that are subject to very long barrel ageing. Manfred explains that he was inspired by legendary Châteauneuf winemaker Henri Bonneau, who often keeps his Grenache in the barrel for extended periods. ‘That fascinated me because many people bottle Grenache fairly quickly. They fear Grenache cannot take much, or any oxygen. So, I ran my own experiments - with Grenache and Syrah too.’ Of course, it’s not quite as easy as leaving grape juice in a barrel. ‘The juice has to balanced - have good concentration of aromatics and flavours, good acidity, good and plenty of ripe tannins and healthiness. But then - and only then - the wines can and probably WILL age better. Their maturity progression slows and stays in that slower pace even in the bottle. It is almost like a miracle and seems counter intuitive, but in the right cellar, in the right barrels, with the right temperature and the proper beginning it can and probably will happen.’

Notable Collaborations

Over the years, Sine Qua Non has collaborated with a number of winemakers. Collaborations include the great Alois Kracher, as well as the Maurel brothers of Clos St Jean in the Southern Rhône Valley. How did these collaborations happen, and what was the experience like? ‘I didn’t meet Alois Kracher until I was already in the US. He was one of the most amazing men I have ever met in every respect; as a winemaker, as a friend, as a husband to his wife and simply as a human being. He wanted to make dessert wines with me and if you ever met him, then you know that nobody on earth could say NO to him. We started to work away and created the Mr. K brand for it. We had no attorney, nothing written down, no contract, nothing. Just a handshake and that was sufficient for all the years we worked together. We made botrytis wine, ice wine and Vin de Paille.’

This collaborative success led Manfred to participating in a joint project with the Maurel brothers of Clos Saint Jean and Philippe Cambie. ‘One day they called and asked if we’d be interested in a little joint project of sorts. We love Châteaneuf-du-Pape and we love their wines. Answer? YES. No legal stuff, just a friendship and a love of wine and creativity. Since 2010 we have made a heavily dominant Mourvedre wine that is called Chimere- only Magnums are filled.’

A Successful 2020 Vintage

‘To a winemaker pretty much every year seems unusual to some degree because no two years are the same, and thus there are always new things to think about and consider.’ 2020 however, has been a tricky year for everyone, not least California, who had wildfires to contend with too.

Despite this, the year was a remarkably good one for the Sine Qua Non vintage. ‘The growing conditions were good, with mild temperatures all year until right before harvest when it got fairly hot. We have had a rather nice string of good vintages. Almost embarrassingly so actually.’ With Manfred at the helm, producing bottles to savor with both the palate and eyes, Sine Qua Non’s continued success seems inevitable.


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