First, a bit of history. According to Wine Grapes by Jancis Robinson, Julia Harding and José Vouillamoz, Baco Noir was hybridized in 1902 by François Baco in the Département de Landes in southwest France. He crossed the vitis vinifera variety Folle Blanche with a vitis riparia cultivar called Grande Glabre and named it Baco 24-23. It was officially dubbed Baco Noir in 1964.
Unlike most red varieties, which have whitish pulp, Baco Noir is a teinturier grape, meaning it has deeply coloured purple pulp. It’s also thin skinned, providing little tannin, and has searing acidity; but Baco Noir delivers a high degree of juicy, dark berry fruitiness.
One attraction for winemakers is its extreme winter hardiness, but is also an early-budding, early-ripening grape susceptible to spring frosts. Exceptionally vigorous, it requires substantial pruning and leaf-plucking. Additionally, the grape bunches need exposure to sun, but that visibility makes them more accessible to hungry birds.
Some growers and winemakers call it the Pinot Noir of hybrids because it can be demanding and finicky. Nevertheless, in recent years, it has become the most-planted red variety in Ontario.
Henry of Pelham Family Estate, situated in the Short Hills Bench appellation, is one of the province’s largest growers of Baco. They have 60 acres, 12 of which were shovel-planted in 1984.
“We really didn’t know what we were doing when we planted our first vines,” says winery president Paul Speck. “We based our decision on advice from other local growers.”
All of the harvest is used for the winery’s estate-bottled production of the highest tiers, including the three Henry of Pelham wines tasted below. Additional tonnage is purchased for use in lower tiers or processed for resale to other wineries.
Speck tells me Baco is one of the winery’s most popular brands, both domestically and internationally. Drinkers of every age, gender, ethnicity and level of wine knowledgeability are attracted to its bold and juicy flavours.
“We have sommeliers all over the world who pour it,” he says, adding, “We sell it in every country that we ship wine to and it’s generally our biggest seller.”