Shea Vineyard & Sine Qua Non: A Memorable Relationship
On the Thursday evening before the start of the IPNC, I hosted a vertical tasting of Sine Qua Non Pinot Noir.
Held at a house our group had rented on the Maresh estate in the Dundee Hills, we were joined by Dick and
Diedre Shea of Vineyard, their winemaker Drew Voit, and winemaker Jim Arterberry of Arterberry Winery.
Austrian-born Manfred Krankl was well acquainted with cult wines as a managing partner of Campanile
Restaurant and La Brea Bakery in Los Angeles. He had arrived in the United States at age 23 after hospitality
school in Austria and began working at a hotel in 1980. Shortly thereafter he struck up a friendship with noted
chef Nancy Silverton while both were staying at a resort in Greece. Together with Mark Peel, the three partners
founded Campanile Restaurant and the adjacent La Brea Bakery. At Campanile he was in charge of the wine
program and developed an eclectic and highly lauded wine list.
Winemaking first piqued his interest when he engaged Babcock Winery in the Santa
Rita Hills to make a small amount of “house” Chardonnay for Campanile restaurant.
By 1992, he had embarked on his own winemaking venture, producing a small
amount of Sine Qua Non “Queen of Spades” Syrah (priced at $31) with Michael
Havens of Havens Wine Cellars in Napa Valley. The name he chose for his label,
Sine Qua Non, is Latin for “something indispensable.” Along with his wife and
business partner, Elaine, he later made wine for several years at Alban Vineyards in
Edna Valley near Arroyo Grande.
His innovative approach to labeling and packaging instantly stirred interest among wine aficionados. For
Krankl, no wine is ever duplicated. Every wine from each vintage is always singular so each wine is given a
different name, a unique and often humorous, even scurrilous, label, and a distinctive, even odd, bottle shape.
Krankl is quite a talented artist and he designs the labels himself starting with a painting and then converting
the artwork to a wood cut or linoleum cut.
The wines are quite distinctive. They are bold, extracted, concentrated and flashy wines often with high
alcohol, but retaining a respectful balance. When asked about the alcohol levels, Krankl responds, “I am
attempting to craft well-proportioned wines that have fruit, acid and tannin in balance with the alcohol. Taken
alone, the alcohol level does not signify much.” It wasn’t long before Robert Parker, Jr., and other wine critics
became enamored with the wines and Sine Qua Non quickly became a cult collectable. The mailing list filled
up quickly (it has been closed for many years) and a lengthy waiting list followed. Krankl has remained warm
to all those showing interest in his wines and often sends a card of condolences to those on the waiting list
eagerly waiting for an opening.
A resident of Ojai, by the late 1990s Krankl found himself driving up to 65,000 miles a year to look after his
restaurant interest in Los Angeles and his winemaking in San Luis Obispo County. He sent his wife to look for
a facility closer to Ojai that could be turned into a winery. Elaine found a “funky” warehouse in Ventura next to
an earth moving equipment company and a surfboard manufacturer. Not exactly a typical location for a winery,
but it was close to home. The warehouse was converted into a functional winery in 1997. By 2002, Krankl had
become a full-time winemaker, relinquishing his interest in Campanile Restaurant and retaining a small share
of La Brea Bakery after its sale.
The first vintage of Sine Qua Non Shea Vineyard Pinot Noir was 1996
and the wine was labeled “Left Field.” For many years, Krankl was the
only California winemaker sourcing Shea fruit. Krankl’s Pinot Noir came
from a 4 acre section of the Shea Vineyard (photo right) planted to
Wädenswil clone. The grapes were trucked in a refrigerated trailer to
Ventura from the Willamette Valley after harvest. Dick Shea likes to tell a
story that contributed to Krankl abandoning the yearly procurement of
Shea fruit. One year the grapes had been picked and a large
refrigerated semi showed up at Shea Vineyard. The doors were opened
and out came the wretched odor of fish! It seems the truck had just
completed a long haul of fish and the smell had lingered. Another truck
had to be summoned while the grapes sat in bins for a lengthy period.
The grapes eventually reached Krankl and the wine turned out fine. The
last vintage of Sine Qua Non Shea Vineyard Pinot Noir was 2003 (“Omega”). Krankl’s block now goes to Pali
Wine Co. and Loring Wine Co. in the Santa Rita Hills, and other blocks are sourced by Auteur and Roessler
Cellars, both located in Northern California.
Krankl made two additional vintages of Pinot Noir (2004 and 2005) from Sta. Rita Hills fruit. He decided to end
his Pinot Noir program to concentrate on Rhone varietals with the eventual goal of acquiring most or all of his
fruit from his own vineyards. The last vintage, in 2005, was appropriately called “Over and Out.”
I have never sampled the 1996 Sine Qua Non Left Field Shea Vineyard Pinot Noir (96 cases produced, release
price $36) or the 1997 Sine Qua Non Complicator Pinot Noir (87 cases produced, release price $47). A
number of the other vintages have been reviewed in past issues of the PinotFile. My notes on the vertical
tasting (1998-2005) held in Oregon follow. Prices listed are the lowest currently being offered on the
secondary market. If you plan to pursue any of these wines, check provenance very carefully as bottles may
have been shipped repeatedly among sellers and buyers through the years. Look for a seller on the mailing
list who has cellared the wine since release.
2005 Sine Qua Non Over & Out Sta. Rita Hills Pinot Noir
15.2% alc., $230.
Nothing shy about this wine.
The prodigious fruit is veering on the edge of super ripeness with a touch of prune peeking out. Despite the
high alcohol, everything is well-proportioned. The most striking feature of this wine is the finish offering a
spectacular peacock tail of raspberry and cherry fruit.
2004 Sine Qua Non Covert Fingers Sta. Rita Hills Pinot Noir
14.9% alc., $275. Also reviewed in Volume 7,
Issue 1. The two Sine Qua Non Pinot Noirs from the Sta. Rita Hills show riper flavors and lower acidity.
powerful melange of ripe black fruits attacks the mouth upon entry. Very dense and showy with an appealing
softness. Nicely balanced. Not for the faint of heart.
2003 Sine Qua Non Omega Shea Vineyard Pinot Noir
15.5% alc., $230.
Corked - Boo-Hoo.
The fruit is noticeably reduced but there are still tasty
black cherry and plum flavors. We tried the Saran Wrap trick attempting to
recover the wine but were unsuccessful.
2002 Sine Qua Non Hollerin M Shea Vineyard Pinot Noir
$350. Also reviewed in Volume 7, Issue 1. This is one of the greatest Sine
Qua Non Pinot Noirs and the highest rated Oregon Pinot Noir ever.
speaks of the soil and wild dark berries with a touch of alcohol. In the mouth
there is sumptuous dark fruit highlighted by earth, tobacco and mocha that
fills the mouth. A velvety texture and a long, scented aftertaste will satisfy any
2001 Sine Qua Non No. 6 Shea Vineyard Pinot Noir
14.2% alc., $220. The grapes in this vintage were
large and flavors were not particularly concentrated. The wine was not highly rated upon release.
A very fruity
and fresh Pinot that draws you in with showy dark stone fruits and underlying earthiness. The tannins are silky
and the overall impression is that of a very decent, but not extraordinary wine.
2000 Sine Qua Non a’Capella Shea Vineyard Pinot Noir
14.3% alc., $200. Consistently good weather
during this vintage.
I have tasted this wine on several occasions and it has always charmed me. Complex
aromas of dark red fruits, mushrooms, coffee, minerals and hi-tone spice. A seamless wine that is just starting
on the downhill slope. Drink up.
1999 Sine Qua Non Ox Shea Vineyard Pinot Noir
14.0% alc., $190. A prolonged vintage with harvest
extending into November. There was very little maturity and color change in early September and the vintage
was saved by heat in October.
A substantial and fruity wine with great intensity. Still young and sporting
noticeable tannins. Plush earth-dusted black cherry flavors with a woodsy and forest floor finish.
1998 Sine Qua Non Veiled Shea Vineyard Pinot Noir
14.0% alc., $220. A warm vintage, just short of 2003
in seasonal heat.
Very fresh and aromatic sporting darker fruits and complimentary spice. Thoroughly
enjoyable to all who tasted it. Impressive for its longevity.
Sine Qua Non has both a spring and fall release. To inquire about the waiting list, fax your request to
805-649-8902. The Sine Qua Non winery is not licensed for tastings. A personal interview
with Manfred Krankl was recorded by the Grape Radio crew in 2006: Part 1 and Part 2,
December 4th, 2006 and posted as part of the past programming at www.graperadio.com.
Listening to the interview, I was impressed by how much credit Manfred gave his wife Elaine.
He admitted that he couldn’t do his job without her, relying on her unbiased opinion about the
wines, her dedicated office work, and her ability to keep him grounded every day. This
scenario is common in the wine business. Spouses of winemakers and winery owners often
are in the background, but frequently success is predicated on the spouse’s unselfish and