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Sunday, March 8, 2015

What the heck is Baco 22A???

Stitch from Lilo and Stitch

Baco 22A is not the freeway exit that unloads you going east on Baco Ave. It's not a complicated diagram in a text book. And it's not a hip new DJ. Honestly, the first thing I thought of when I saw the name was Experiment 626, AKA Stitch from Disney's Lilo & Stitch. I have a four year old. Don't question my thought process. 

But Baco 22A is a grape. And it turns out that the Experiment 626 and Baco 22A comparison isn't really that far off. They were both carefully constructed and designed by a mad scientist to be an indestructable, organic buzzsaw abomination of chaos. Wait, no... that's not right. At the very least they were both carefully constructed and designed for resilience.

The grape is white and mostly used in Armagnac, a brandy made in the Armagnac region of Gascony, France. Baco 22A is known to go by the alias of Baco Blanc.

Francois Baco
That unmerciful bastard bug called phylloxera hit France in the 1860's, annihilating vineyards. Before it was discovered that grafting the rootstock of vitis labrusa onto the vines of vitis vinifera (putting American table grape roots onto European wine grape trunks) would repent the evil phylloxera louse, it hadn't gone unnoticed that labrusca was resistant. And so hybrid grapevines began to be made. They took labrusca and vinifera and made babies, showing qualities here and there of both.

Some of these hybrids were even created after the grafting solution was found. That includes our subject, Baco 22A.

The white vinifera variety Folle Blanche was still dying from phylloxera. It kept rejecting the grafted transplant of its American cousin's rootstock. At the time this grape was the main variety of Cognac and Armagnac, and the fact that Folle Blanche was on its death bed wasn't cool with Francois Baco. So he made it his mission to save it by doing what he did best: grape breeding.

Mr. Baco (1865-1947) first took Folle Blanche and some random unkown red grape from yet another vine breed, vitis riparia, and made a hybrid he named Baco Noir. That didn't work out too well for his needs but it had the ability to do well in unusually cold weather, so the grape is still around and there's plenty of plantings in Canada and the northern United States.

So after that he took the Noah grape, itself a hybrid of labrusca and riparia, and bred it with Folle Blanche and BOOM! Baco 22A was born in 1898, named after "position 22 A" in the vineyard it originated. A grape constructed to impart some of the characteristics of Folle Blanche and be resistant to phylloxera, other pests, and vine diseases brought over from America. Folle Blanche also had a problem with rot and Baco 22A didn't. Its own weakness is that it buds early and ripens late, so it contracts powdery mildew easily.

Baco 22A / Baco Blanc
The grapes make terrible wine but that wine is perfect for distillation. Low in alcohol, high in acidity. For that reason and its resistance to the worries of the day, Baco 22A swiftly became widely planted as a staple blending grape for Armagnac and the brandies of the entire Gascony region.

Loire Valley also embraced the grape as a minor blender in Muscadet and Saumur. For a little while it was the preferred choice for making the early sweet wines of New Zealand, way before the country was producing the kind of wines it's putting out today.

In the early 1900's it took over as the premier grape for brandy. For around sixty years it was so big that it could, as the alien Dr. Jumba put it, "take down large cities, back up sewers, reverse street signs, and steal everyone's left shoe". But Ugni Blanc, also known as Trebbiano in Italy, seized the title of premier brandy grape by the 1970's. Ugni Blanc almost entirely took over Cognac and also became the main grape in Armagnac, although to a lesser extent, where it goes by the name of St. Emilion.

Folle Blanche survived phylloxera and it's still one of the permitted grapes of Armagnac, along with offspring Baco 22A. Both are minor blending grapes and fading in plantings.

In 1992 France's INAO demanded that Baco 22A be completely uprooted from vineyards by 2010. Supporters of the grape were able to talk them out of it, but plantings are still being uprooted in favor for Ugni Blanc. There are still supporters that remain standing with the endangered grape today, and the way they see it is that Baco 22A earned its place in the Armagnac family.

And family means nobody gets left behind or forgotten.

- Joey Casco, CSW

Shout-out to @lilfaerieaimee on Instagram, a fellow wineo that shares my sentimental love of Lilo & Stitch.
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