2006 Sine Qua Non - Wine Advocate #190 - Aug 2010: The soon-to-be-released 2006 A Shot in the Dark is composed of 96.5% Syrah and 3.5% Viognier from the 11 Confessions Vineyard in the cool Santa Rita Hills. Performing better from bottle than it did from barrel, this prodigious red exhibits incredibly velvety tannins, a seamless style, and no noticeable oak (which is remarkable given the fact it spent 32 months in barrel). Dense purple to the rim with an extraordinary perfume of blueberry pie, blackberries, soy, Asian spices, and hints of forest floor and charcoal, this is a complex, rich, seamless, well-balanced tour de force in winemaking. A full-bodied, exuberant, unabashedly California Syrah, it will offer stunning drinking over the next 10-15+ years. The extended barrel aged Grenache, the 2006 In the Crosshairs, will be released in a few months. A blend of 84% Grenache, 12% Syrah, and 4% Viognier from the estate's 11 Confessions Vineyard in the Santa Rita Hills, this cuvee was aged completely in French oak, many of the barrels being demi-muids. It spent 32 months in wood, which goes against nearly every conventional rule about how Grenache reacts to wood. This contrarian notion is the genius of Krankl. An extraordinary wine, it may turn out to be his greatest Grenache since the 2000 Incognito (a wine that is currently at a magical maturity point). No shy wine at 16.3% alcohol (similar to a top-notch Chateauneuf du Pape), it exhibits a deep plum/ruby/purple color as well as a luxurious bouquet of raspberry jam, kirsch liqueur, lavender, licorice, and spice box. Full-bodied and sumptuously textured with stunning power as well as elegance, this hedonistic and intellectual turn-on should rock and roll (or is it Rock and Rhone?) for another 10-15 years. After three decades of tasting wines from nearly all the world's greatest winemakers, many on an annual basis, have I fully understood what motivates them? For some it may be insecurity, for some others an overwhelming competitiveness, while for others it may be a ferocious fury focused on a single goal. Manfred Krankl and his charming wife, Elaine, are well-known to me. I have been visiting Sine Qua Non for over 15 years. This is a Horatio Alger tale of an immigrant (in this case, from Austria) who arrived with only a backpack to his name, and who in a few short years opened the finest artisanal bakery in Los Angeles ( La Brea Bakery) as well as one of the area's pioneering Mediterranean-styled restaurants (Campania - still flourishing today). However, Krankl's fame rests on the strength of his wines - compelling, singular, and world-class wines that are like no others being produced on Planet Earth. Is it his insecurity, his zealous competitiveness, a raging fire in his psyche, or merely a deep passion that suffers no fools or compromises? I suspect that even Krankl, in his most private moments, is unable to articulate what drives him to produce such magnificent vinous works of art. Some things at Sine Qua Non are etched in stone. First and foremost, Krankl works as hard in the vineyard as anybody. For example, a lot of wine producers talk yields, etc., but very few actually practice as small of yields as Krankl does. In 2007, his white wine yields were 1.28 tons of fruit per acre. His Grenache yields were 1.3 tons of fruit per acre, and his Syrah was 1.52 tons per acre. In 2008, he had a bumper crop by his standards, with white wine yields coming in at 1.74 tons of fruit per acre, Grenache at 1.66 tons, and Syrah at 1.70 tons per acre. There is a lot of phony baloney talk in the wine trade that low yields are not all they-re cracked up to be, but talk to any top winemaker, look at any great wine; the unavoidable conclusion is (1) most are produced only from top sites, (2) nearly all of them are meticulously cultivated and looked after, and (3) yields are consistently low Krankl's wines would never have the flavor or nuances they do if yields were two or three times higher. In any event, this was probably my last visit to his -Mad Max- junkyard dog sort of winery in one of the ugliest sections of Ventura. That will all change as his new winery on his estate property just south of Ojai, becomes a reality. I have mixed emotions about that as his old warehouse has become hallowed Rhone Ranger ground for me. Nearly a decade ago, Krankl began to offer both a Grenache and Syrah that saw extended barrel aging. I believe he was the first Central Coast producer to institute that practice, and the success of this technique, practiced by Marcel Guigal since 1976, has been emulated by Justin Smith at Saxum and John Alban at Alban Vineyards.