Sine Qua Non, Next of Kyn and The Third Twin

USA, California

Sine Qua Non, Next of Kyn and The Third Twin

The end of the seven-hour drive to Oak View to taste with Elaine and Manfred Krankl has become my annual reset. Even in 2020, when no one was going anywhere, and everyone was mailing the samples, I visited. Because when we sit, discussing all the things that are not wine, intangible yet clearly relevant, the vintages pouring down all around us, and before I have sliced and diced the Krankls’ wines into the consistently numbered, formaldehyde-filled jars, the tallying of points in my head stops. There are more critical things to consider.

Rain Dogs

"Inside a broken clock
Splashing the wine
With all the Rain Dogs"

-Tom Waits

“The biggest problem for us, for southern California, is water,” said Manfred during my visit in August. “We just have no water. There is a lake here and we have access, but the lake is so low now. And there’s lots of politics, but there’s not a drop of water in them. And there are people trying to establish trout around here! What are these desert trout? It’s crazy.”

California is in the grips of a drought. There are indeed worse crops than wine grapes to grow in a climate going from dry to parched, as a drive south down the state’s central route and through the fruit tree graveyards will attest. One of the most significant issues for grape growers throughout the state is how to better manage water use. The related issue is temperature.

“My favorite vintage would be 85 degrees every day,” Manfred commented with a sigh. “The 2019 vintage was a relatively cooler year, by California standards. We had a single day that was at 100 degrees, but that was it. The outcome is the wines are fresher and more aromatic. To me, they are quite lovely. 2020 is more of a normal year, for here, producing thicker, more concentrated wines. The wines are more feminine, but you can’t say that anymore. And from 2020, we are 100% estate grown.”

Being wholly estate grown is a massive milestone for the Krankls. In the early days of Sine Qua Non, from 1994 until 2003, Manfred and Elaine Krankl exclusively purchased fruit from various vineyard sources around California’s Central Coast, including Alban, Stolpman, White Hawk, Shadow Canyon, and Bien Nacido. They had very close relationships with each of these growers. John Alban was a mentor to Manfred in his early days of winemaking. Then in 2001, the Krankls planted the first of their estate-owned vineyards in Sta. Rita Hills. 

“We named the vineyard ELEVEN CONFESSIONS,” Manfred said, “because 11 different scions are planted there, and all of them will at some point have to speak the truth. Confess, as it were. And you shall be their judge.”

"The wines have a lot of structure and presence, they can be pretty muscular."

Today, Eleven Confessions has 33 acres planted. Eleven acres of Pinot Noir were already planted when they purchased the property, about half of which have been grafted over, and the Krankls planted a further 22 acres in 2001. To fully ripen Manfred’s preferred medium—mainly Rhône varieties—in this area, more commonly planted to cooler-climate grapes such as Pinot and Chardonnay, the Krankls need to go super low on the yields and long on the hang time. “This vineyard is by far the coolest of our vineyards,” Manfred explained. “Sometimes, we don’t harvest until November.” Punitive yields of 1.5 tons per acre or less are typical. In the years when it’s good and ready to sing, Eleven Confessions is used to make a single-vineyard wine under the Sine Qua Non label. “The wines have a lot of structure and presence,” Manfred commented. “The soil is mainly heavy clay, so the wines can be pretty muscular.”

The Krankls own four vineyards in total, each exceptionally distinct. Molly Aida is the smallest and is used purely as a blending component. “Molly Aida is across the way from Tensley’s Colson Canyon, back in a canyon, not far from Santa Maria,” Manfred explained. Located at around 1,800 feet of elevation in Tepusquet Canyon, the vineyard is in a remote, rugged location—a “hermit’s paradise.” Only 1.5 acres are planted. “We were going to develop this more when we saw The Third Twin, which was so much better to develop.” The only variety grown here is Mourvèdre—all head-trained in traditional Châteauneuf du Pape fashion. The first “tiny bit of fruit nuggets” from here for Sine Qua Non was harvested in 2015.

Elaine and Manfred purchased the Third Twin in Los Alamos in 2010—then just a tiny vineyard of Syrah and Petite Sirah. The original plantings were own-rooted, and the Krankls forewent rootstocks for some subsequent plantings. “If I weren’t worried, I would do all own-root,” he said. “The vines adjust best to conditions on their own roots.” The Krankls planted Mourvèdre here, not to be confused with some new Central Coast plantings of what turned out to be Graciano. Manfred explained that this is Mourvèdre Clone S, sourced from John Alban. And there is some legitimate, purposely planted Graciano here. In 2015, they planted a further 6.5 acres of Syrah, then three acres of Touriga Nacional and Graciano were planted in 2020. “Graciano ripens like Grenache. It ripens late, and unless it fully ripens, it is not interesting. It needs a lot of hang time.” According to Manfred, The Third Twin is a medium-warm site. The soil is almost pure sand, especially the sections of new plantings. “The ripening process is a little more condensed than the other vineyards,” he mentioned. As well as being a blending component in the Sine Qua Non wines, The Third Twin is a single vineyard label today.

In the early 2000s, Manfred and Elaine had been living in Ojai and looking for a piece of vineyard land to buy. Then, by chance, Manfred was driving through Oak View one day on his way to the coastal highway and saw a “For Sale” sign up on this 200+ acre parcel. The land had nothing on it—just a dirt path leading to an old, run-down residence that would require a complete (85%) remodel. It took a lot of vision, not to mention ambition, to see what it could become. And it took a leap of faith—no vineyards had ever even been planted within miles of this pocket of grazing land. This unlikely spot became the Cumulus Vineyard and the Krankls’ home.

The proximity to Lake Casitas and the ocean (about 10 miles away) allows Cumulus Vineyard a moderately warm as opposed to hot climate. However, it is the Krankls’ warmest site and often the first to be harvested. “I’d say Cumulus vineyard is probably on a par with parts of Napa in terms of heat,” Manfred commented. “An east-west aspect tends to offer the best advantage with a little more protection from the sun.” There is some limestone in the soil mix, which is unusual for the area.

There are now just over 12.5 acres planted at Cumulus. The first plantings of Syrah, Grenache, and Roussanne took place in 2004, and a little more Grenache was planted in 2005. Then in 2008, small blocks of Petite Manseng, Syrah, Touriga Nacional, Mourvedre, and Petite Sirah were added, including 3.5 acres on its own roots. Also used as a blending component for the Sine Qua Non wines, in 2007, the Next of Kyn label was launched, showcasing Cumulus as a single vineyard.

Regarding wines tasted this year, as Sine Qua Non fans will know, the new Sine Qua Non 2019s and 2020 White Wine, Grenache, and Syrah wines are simply called “Distenta I” and “Distenta II,” meaning “unlabeled” in Latin, which takes care of the problem of finding new wine names that have not already been trademarked every year.

As with the Fingers Crossed 2020 wines I reported on last week, I didn’t detect smoke taint in either of the 2020 Sine Qua Non wines I tasted. This makes sense since these sites within Santa Barbara County will have been far enough to the south of the wildfires that year to have escaped relatively unscathed. As for the styles and personalities of the Krankls’ wines, I have tried to be as detailed as possible in my tasting notes. Please take some time to read these notes because the numbers alone frankly don’t do justice.

Article & Reviews by Lisa Perrotti-Brown MW
Photos by Svante Örnberg

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