The origin of the phrase Sine Qua Non comes from Late Latin, it’s first recorded use was in 1602. For those who are not versed in Latin, never-mind the origin, consider this phrase to have been plucked from relative obscurity and pressed into its most popular modern usage by California’s quirky Austrian transplant Manfred Krankl. It literally means without which not and refers to something that is absolutely essential.
Sine Qua Non’s first official vintage was in 1994 but Krankl’s most legendary wine was created in 1992 out of Havens winery and has become the single most expensive bottle of California wine ever produced; that is a story for another post. Starting in 1994 with four and a half barrels of syrah and a handmade label for his inaugural wine called Queen of Spades, Krankl took a shot and sent a bottle to Robert Parker Jr. with a handwritten note. The rest, as they say, is history. Parker scored the wine 95pts and was compelled to to call Krankl after the tasting. His advice to the future star of new world Rhone varietals, rethink your plan to give out your home phone number because “you’re going to get a lot of calls!”
In 1995 Krankl released 4 new wines, each with a new name and new label, no Black & Blue or Queen of Spades. This was to become the calling card of Sine Qua Non, to never repeat wine names but rather to create something new, artwork included, each vintage. This once seemingly insane “marketing” strategy is now considered remarkably clever. As Krankl points out “it’s funny when the outside world perceives something from different directions depending where you are on the curve of success.”
Many factors contribute to the continued success of Sine Qua Non but two stand out above the rest. For one, he was a protege of the late-great Austrian winemaker Alois Kracher and clearly derives much of his passion and winemaking acumen from this friendship. Secondly, is financial freedom; this is perhaps the most important piece of the puzzle for Sine Qua Non. Without financial concerns Krankl is able to focus unrelentingly on quality and disregard all else as secondary, if not totally superfluous. For his yearly journey to perfection, these and many smaller considerations have combined to achieve 12 100pt scores from Robert Parker.
Manfred Krankl is a unique man on a unique trajectory, his wines mirror that reality.