Eleven of us ventured to Central CA to visit two of our favorite wineries…Saxum and Sine Qua Non. Let me start by saying that this was the trip of a lifetime made possible by the amazing generosity of our hosts Justin Smith and Manfred and Elaine Krankl. I posted on Saxum last weekend and wanted to take a moment to provide my thoughts and recollections of our time at SQN. Manfred and Elaine are by far the most generous, hospitable and genuine people one could ever hope to meet. We traveled from far and wide to visit the rocks stars of wine but in the end…WE were treated as celebrities. In an age where winery customers are treated as though WE are privileged just to have the opportunity to purchase their wares, the Krankl’s displayed a genuine sense of gratitude for our support rarely seen in our little world of wine geekdome. To the Krankl’s, I say thank you for the opportunity for the experience.
On day one, we visited the Cumulus vineyard site and home of the Krankl’s new winery. Let me say that the structure seemed like an invention of the mind of the late Frank Lloyd Wright but with the artistic touch and color of Van Gogh. It’s set beautifully along the hillside of Ventura beneath the breathtaking meticulous rolling vineyards, all perfectly manicured and precisely pruned as to create a natural work of art. The chickens and cows watched on with indifference as we rode up and through the various blocks of grapes up to the hilltop where we looked down onto the Cumulus Vineyard. Oh the romanticism of standing perch overlooking the open hills still green and holding on to spring. Napa now seems like a rolling advertisement whereas Ojai is a place of simplicity and freedom. We all just basked in the moment (and burned in the sun as some had forgotten their sunscreen). We then set back down the hill to the winery to barrel taste the various elements that would soon likely become a few perfect vinous concoctions. If I learned anything on this trip, I learned that end product starts with hard work, precision, dedication and pursuit of excellence in the vineyard and ends with the magic of blending the various elements to create the final piece of art. Like colors on a pallet, each piece is carefully selected to create what would become the complete picture and it is in these two elements that the Krankl’s excel and conceive what is to become their perfect artistic expression. At this point, I’ll leave it to one of my fellow attendees to provide some more precise notes as I was more than content to simply taste and contemplate. It’s amazing how different each of these barrel samples taste and smell and how each holds such a unique and important piece of the overall puzzle. We tasted, I believe, three grenache samples and two syrahs along with a few of the whites…one of which was a remarkable and beautifully acidic Petit Mensang. Later we would taste what would prove to be one of the highlights of the trip…the Krankl’s Petite Sirah. WOW! Now this is something for which you’d want to back up the truck. This is some serious hoodoo! After the barrel tasting, we were treated to an absolutely amazing lunch set up on what I believe was the crush pad overlooking the hillside. We were thrilled to find a host of mags of some of our favorite SQN creations. Again, I’ll leave it to my brethren to provide a list but as I remember, it included On Your Toes, Into The Dark, 17th Nail, Lil E, Rejuvenators, Kolibri, Hussy, Naked Truth, E-Raised, Just For The Love Of It and others. For me, the 17th Nail was the show stopper as was the On Your Toes. The surprise of the night was the Kolibri as last I tasted it (about a year ago), it was simply great but WOW has it become an absolutely brilliant wine! Eventually, as the sun began to set, we headed back to our hotel to prepare for another day of SQN madness.
Sunday had us heading to the Third Twin Vineyard located in Los Alamos, CA. The site is located in close proximity to Bien Nacido and White Hawk. It was amazing to see how sandy the soil was and again we found such meticulously manicured vineyards. Chris Hammell, vineyard manager of Bien Nacido, joined us. You couldn’t ask for a cooler guy to hang with and with such passion for the art of viticulture. If he ever ends up producing his own wine…buy buy BUY as he is uber passionate about his craft. It was cool to see many of the infant vines perched along the hillside. The setting was more green than Ojai as from what I understand, the area sees just a bit more rain. With Manfred, Chris and Mark (the vineyard manager) leading the way, we worked our way to the crest of the hill to the overlook of the vineyards. The view was simply put, STRIKING!
To conclude the day, we dined at the restaurant Flatbread in Los Alamos. It was surprising to find such an amazing gem of a restaurant in such a seemingly small and simple town. The food was top notch as was the service. We shared in a variety of wines brought by both our crew and the Krankl’s and included the 98 Beaucastel Perrin, a RIDICULOUS mag of Heart Chorea along with a slew of other wines. We must have consumed four cases of wine amongst the 16 of us. The quality of wine was only eclipsed by the quality of the company.
To put this trip into words would be impossible as it was beyond comprehension. As most of you have come to realize, I am a die hard fan of SQN but to meet the people and personalities behind the wine is to put the icing on the cake. It only affirms what I’ve come to learn over the years and that is supporting a quality brand is important but supporting quality people is paramount. In life, we are lucky if we meet a few great people (as my good friend Winick would put it) and on these two days…we were fortunate to break bread with two of the finest and most generous and kind hearted people one could ever be lucky enough to know. Many thanks to the Krankls, the SQN staff, Chris, Mark, and the rest of the crew for making a memory that will last a lifetime and then some. Cheers and drink well all.