Five Fast Facts about Muscadelle

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The Muscadelle grape is often mis-pronounced and mis-understood. (For the record, the English pronunciation sounds like this: muhs-kuh-del.)

Muscadelle has been the victim of multiple cases of mistaken identity. It  is NOT synonymous with Muscadet, it is NOT a close relative of Muscat (despite the indisputable similarities in grapey, floral aromas), and it is not another name for Muskateller. Once upon a time, it was believed that Muscadelle was another name for Hárslevelű, one of the leading grapes in the famous wines of Hungary’s Tokaj region. This led to the grape being known in some areas as Tokay. However—you guessed it—we now know that Muscadelle is NOT Hárslevelű.

Muscadelle is not, in fact Muscat, nor Muscadet, nor Hárslevelű. But it is a fascinating grape, and here are five fast facts to prove it!

Fast Fact #1: Muscadelle is believed to be native to the area around Bordeaux and the Dordogne in south-western France. It is the offspring of Gouis Blanc and as-yet-unknown variety. This means that Muscadelle is part of the extended Pinot Family and some sort of a half-sister to Chardonnay.

Fast Fact #2: As befits its native status, some of the largest plantings of Muscadelle are in Bordeaux. Here, Muscadelle plays what might be its most famous role—as the number three grape (after Sémillon and Sauvignon Blanc) in the white wines (both dry and sweet) of Bordeaux. However, even here it is grown in limited amounts, amounting to just over 2,000 acres (885 ha) and—when used—typically amounts to no more than 3% of the total blend. One exception is Château Palmer, a Troisième Cru located in Margaux, that often produces a white wine—Blanc de Palmer—with as much as 50% Muscadelle in the mix

Fast Fact #3: Muscadelle is a bit more highly appreciated in Bergerac, a region about 50 miles (83 km) inland (and down the Dordogne River) from Bordeaux. The grape is used in varying amounts in the dry white wines of the area, including those of the Gaillac AOC and the Bergerac AOC. Many people believe that Muscadelle shows best in a sweet wine that allows its rich, floral aromas to shine. The wines of the sweet-wine-only Monbazillac AOC (located just up the river from Bergerac) are among the finest to showcase the Muscadelle grape variety in this way.

Photo via Campbells of Rutherglen

Fast Fact #4: Australia’s Rutherglen GI has produced unique, fortified-and-oxidized wines since the 1850s. These wines, made in a range of styles, are primarily produced from Muscat and Muscadelle grape varieties. Rutherglen is one of the regions where—in days past—Muscadelle was known as “Tokay” and as such, some of these wines were known as “Liqueur Tokay.” The name of the wine has since been changed to “Topaque” (as part of an agreement between the EU and Australia). Campbells of Rutherglen describes their Topaque as follows: “Deep, brilliant old gold. Lifted toffee, honey and cold tea characters combine to produce the unique character of Rutherglen Topaque.”

Fast Fact #5: Muscadelle has some fun nicknames, including the following: Vesparo, White Angelica, Marseillais, Guilan Musque, Raisinote, and Musquette. In part of California it is known as Sauvignon Vert, but this should not be confused with that other, more famous grape (also) known as Sauvignon Vert (aka Sauvignonasse or Friulano).

References/for more information:

The Bubbly Professor is “Miss Jane” Nickles of Austin, Texas… missjane@prodigy.net

Five Fast Facts about Budbreak

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Despite the craziness of the world around us, the natural cycle of life continues. One of the most fascinating to witness—for students of wine—is the life cycle of the vineyard. For those of us in the Northern Hemisphere, we are witnessing the blooming of spring—and along with it—the breaking of buds in the vineyard.

In homage to this annual miracle, here are five fast (fascinating) facts about budbreak in the vineyard.

#1: In a typical year in the Northern Hemisphere, budbreak will begin in mid-March. In years of oddball weather, it may begin to occur as early as mid-February or as late as mid-April. In the Southern Hemisphere, the process typically begins in mid-September, but can be as early as August or as late as October.

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#2: Within a single vine, those buds that are furthest away from the trunk will break first; in some cases, this may occur several days before those located closer to the trunk. This is particularly apparent when canes are left upright; in such cases the buds furthest from the trunk (the more distal buds) will be observed to burst several days before those closer to the trunk (basal buds). This phenomenon, known as apical dominance, can be avoided by bending or cracking the cane.

#3: The most direct correlation between mother nature and budbreak is the cumulative effect of the warming air temperature once it hits an average of 10°C/50°F. This temperature is sometimes referred to as the “growth threshold” and will signal the nascent buds to shed their fuzzy exterior and break free. Soil temperature may also be a contributing factor, so a wet-and-cold late winter (resulting in wet soils that retain the cold temperatures) can slide bud break back a few days or weeks. (According to the website of Penn State Extension/Wine and Grapes there is conflicting information on whether or not soil temperature affects the timing of bud break. In some studies, Cabernet Sauvignon vines show a correlation between the date of bud break and rising soil temperatures. Alternatively, some studies show no correlation between soil temperatures and the timing of bud break in Syrah.) Other factors that influence the timing of budbreak include photoperiod (day length) and chemical (hormonal) plant growth regulators that help to maintain the plant’s period of dormancy even in the face of mid-winter warm spells.

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#4: While many factors contribute to the timing of budbreak in a given vineyard in a given year, some varieties are known for their tendency towards early budbreak. Likewise, some grapes tend to be late breakers. Here is a list of some of the better-known varieties, arranged by their tendencies regarding bud-break and ripening:

  • Early bud break/early ripening: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Merlot
  • Early bud break/mid-to-late ripening: Chenin Blanc, Grenache, Viognier
  • Late bud break/early ripening: Sauvignon Blanc, Syrah
  • Late bud break/mid-to-late ripening: Riesling, Cabernet Sauvignon

#5: Fun with fruit trivia: Grapevines need a slightly higher base (air) temperature than is required to induce bud break in many other fruits. Fruit trees such as apple, peach, cherry, and apricot tend to break bud when the average air temperature reaches 39° to 41 °F (3.8° to 5°C).

The most important aspect of bud break, at least in my opinion, is that is represents the hope for a successful year, to be followed by flowering, fruit set, veraison, ripening, harvest, and (several months or several years later) more wine for all of us lucky humans. Bring on the buds!

References/for more information:

The Bubbly Professor is “Miss Jane” Nickles of Austin, Texas… missjane@prodigy.net

You can’t be First but you can be Nouveau

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Beaujolais Nouveau Day approaches!

That’s right…tomorrow (the third Thursday of November—in this case, November 21, 2019) is Beaujolais Nouveau release day—the day that wine snobs love to hate!

While Beaujolais Nouveau is often talked about, widely belittled, and perhaps seems a bit cliché, there is still a lot to learn (and appreciate) about this once-a-year, fresh-and-fruity, bright-cherry-red, chillable quaffer. As such, I offer five fast obscure facts about Beaujolais Nouveau:

#1—Beaujeu is party central: The Commune of Beaujeu is the place to be. There are over 120 Beaujolais Nouveau release parties held every year in the Beaujolais region. The best of these—Les Sarmentelles de Beaujeu—is a five-day festival held in Beaujeu, the historical capital (and namesake) of the Beaujolais region. The festivities of Les Sarmentelles include a Salon des Vin (Beaujolais wine-tasting extravaganza), induction of a new set of compagnons/compagnonnes into the Beaujolais Guild, an arts and crafts market, a gourmet market, banquets, lunch-time dances, concerts, torch-lit parades, and a tasting trail that takes you to all 12 areas of production. Rumor has it that the festival includes a Beaujolais wine tasting competition where the winner receives their weight in Beaujolais-Villages.

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#2—There’s more than one Gamay:  The famous Gamay Noir grape of Beaujolais fame has a red-fleshed country cousin known as Gamay Teinturier de Bouze. As one would expect from the use of the term “teinturier,” this grape has red juice and flesh (a rarity in the world of red wine grapes). Gamay Teinturier is believed to be either a mutation of Gamay Noir, or perhaps its offspring. Another grape—Gamay Teinturier de Chaudenay—is a mutation of Gamay Teinturier de Bouze;  both versions are allowed for use in the wines of the Beaujolais AOC as long as they are limited to a (combined) maximum of 10% of the final blend.

#3—Beaujolais Blanc need not apply: Beaujolais Nouveau may be the most famous wine of region, but several other styles of Beaujolais are produced as well. The best-of-the-bunch Beaujolais Crus may only be produced as red wines. The required assemblage of all ten Beaujolais Cru is as follows: a minimum of 85% Gamay, with an allowed 15% (combined) of Chardonnay, Aligoté, and/or Melon de Bourgogne. Beaujolais AOC (which includes those wines labeled as “Beaujolais-Villages AOC” as of 2011) may be produced in red or rosé (produced from a minimum of 85% Gamay with an allowed 15% [combined] Aligoté, Chardonnay, Melon de Bourgogne, Pinot Gris, and/or Pinot Noir) as well as white (100% Chardonnay). Only red or rosé wines, released under either the Beaujolais or Beaujolais-Villages AOC may be designed as nouveau—Beaujolais Blanc and Beaujolais Cru do not qualify.

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#4—There’s more than one Nouveau: In addition to Beaujolais, France has a list of about 50 wines that are allowed to be labeled as “Nouveau” and released on the third Thursday of November. These include those from the Anjou AOC, Muscadet AOC, and Mâcon-Villages AOC.

#5—You can’t be first but you can be next Nouveau: The nouveau wines of France are not the first wines of the harvest to be released in Europe. That title, it appears, goes to Italy and its rather long list of red wines—including Vittoria DOC, Rosso Piceno DOC, and Castel del Monte DOC—that are allowed to designated as “Rosso Novello” and released on October 30. Nouveau wine (in the Northern Hemisphere) can loosely be defined as wine that is allowed to be released in the same year in which it was harvested. Several European countries have their own versions of nouveau wine—including Portugal (Novo), Spain (Vendemia Inicial), and Austria (Heurige).

References/for more information:

The Bubbly Professor is “Miss Jane” Nickles of Austin, Texas… missjane@prodigy.net

Five Fast Facts about Mencía

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Mencía is a red grape variety, mainly grown in northern Spain with additional plantings in central Portugal. It is known for producing nicely acidic, moderately tannic red wines.

If that is all that you know about Mencía, you are doing pretty well! However, if you’d like to learn a few more fascinating facts about Mencía, please read on!

#1: It is pronounced “Men-thee-ah.”

#2: It was once thought that Mencía was the same grape as—or closely related to—Cabernet Franc. However, modern DNA testing has proven that Mencía and Cabernet Franc are not particularly closely related. Mencía is, however, identical to a Portuguese grape known as Jaen—aka Jaen du Dão. It is possible that Mencía is native to the north of Spain and spread from there to Portugal’s Dão Region—perhaps via pilgrims trekking home from Santiago de Compostela. However, it is also possible that it originated in the Dão and later made its way to Spain.

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#3: These days, Mencía is best-known as the main grape of Spain’s Bierzo DO (located in the region of Castilla y León), where it accounts for nearly 75% of the vine acreage. Mencía is also grown in Galicia (Spain) in the Valdeorras DO, Monterrei DO, and Ribeira Sacra DO. In Portugal, it is grown in the Dão, Lisboa, and Beira Interior Regions.

#4: In the not-too-distant past, Mencía was primarily grown in the fertile, rain-abundant plains and valleys of Portugal and Galicia. These plantings produced high yields, which were in turn used to produce large volumes of high-acid, fruity, quaffable wines often compared to certain lovable-but-not-serious versions of Beaujolais.  As these things usually go, there certainly were a handful of quality-minded producers all along, and the idea of ultra-high quality Mencía was fully realized when—in the 1990s—Alvaro Palacios came to town. Palacios, already famous for creating ultra-high-quality wines in Priorat, began to produce Bierzo DO wines from 40-to-60-year-old Mencía vines grown on the well-drained soils of the area’s hillsides. The resulting wines, now produced by Descendientes de J. Palacios, are rich, concentrated, serious wines (including some single-vineyard bottlings that can fetch prices of $500 a bottle or more). Other top producers of hillside-grown Mencía include Dominio de Tares, Casar de Burbia and Castro Ventosa (whose holdings include a pre-phylloxera Mencía vineyard planted on the only sandy soils to be found in Bierzo).

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#5: Quaffable wines produced from the Mencía grape variety will be pleasant enough and have a nice cherry-red color, good acidity, and moderate tannins as well as aromas of strawberry, raspberry, cherry, and pomegranate with some floral undertones. Lower-yield, higher-quality Mencía can show all of the above as well as hints of licorice, black pepper, and a whiff minerality—often described as a “gravel-like scent”. These wines can be deep red/violet in color, rich in meaty tannins, and as age-worthy as the finest Pinot Noir.

According to the latest figures, there are about 25,000 acres (10,100 ha) of Mencía in Spain, as well as about 7,000 acres (2,835 ha) in Portugal.

References/for further information:

The Bubbly Professor is “Miss Jane” Nickles of Austin, Texas… missjane@prodigy.net

Five Fast Facts about the Yakima Valley AVA

Photo by Agne27 via Wikimedia Commons

Here’s five fast facts about the beautiful, historic, and tourist-friendly Yakima Valley AVA. Time to plan a trip!

#1: The Yakima Valley was the first AVA in Washington State: In April of 1983, the Yakima Valley AVA was the first AVA established within Washington State (the larger Columbia Valley AVA was established about a year-and-a-half later, in November of 1984). The Yakima Valley area is home to some of the oldest vineyards in Washington State, with winemaking in the area going back as far as 1869. The first vines in the area were planted by Charles Schanno, a winemaker from the French region of Alsace-Lorraine. Later, in the early 1900s, an attorney from Tacoma named William Bridgeman planted vineyards and pioneered irrigation in the area. Following Prohibition, Bridgeman opened Upland Winery and—along with winemaker Erich Steenborg—began producing varietally-labeled wines in the Yakima Valley, including the state’s first dry Riesling.

#2: The Yakima Valley has three sub-AVAs (with one more [maybe] on the way): The Yakima Valley AVA stretches for over 60 miles from the town of Union Gap (just south of the city of Yakima) and along the valley of the Yakima River until just before the point where the Yakima flows into the Columbia River. The sub-appellations of the Yakima Valley are:

  • Red Mountain: the smallest AVA in the state, located on the south/southeast slope of Red Mountain facing the Yakima River, and a powerhouse area for Cabernet Sauvignon.
  • Snipes Mountain: the second-smallest AVA in the state, located in the southeast corner of the Yakima Valley atop a ridge including the peaks of Snipes Mountain and Harrison Hill. This is the area where William Bridgeman’s original winery, Upland Winery was located; the original property (now owned by the Newhouse family) is a large working farm—Upland Estates—complete with an area known as Upland Vineyards.
  • Rattlesnake Hills:  The Rattlesnake Hills AVA is located to the north of the Yakima River, along an expanse of hills running from east-to-west. The vineyards here are found at elevations ranging from 850 feet and rising as high as 3,085 feet.
  • Candy Mountain—the one on-the-way: In January of 2017, the TTB accepted an application for the proposed Candy Mountain AVA, to be located in the far-eastern part of the Yakima Valley, to the east of Red Mountain. If accepted, Candy Mountain will be the smallest AVA in Washington State.

Field of hops

#3: The Yakima Valley is known for Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Merlot, and…hops: The leading grape varieties of the Yakima Valley (listed in order) include Chardonnay (at 3,180 acres), Merlot (at 2,090 acres), Cabernet Sauvignon (at 1,350 acres), Riesling (at 920 acres), and Syrah (at 650 acres). In addition to grapes and wine, the Yakima Valley is a major producer of apples, cherries, pears, and hops. The Yakima Valley contains more than 75% of the total hop acreage in the country and accounts for 77% of all hop production in the US.

#4: There’s a movie about it: It’s not quite Sideways, and I’m not sure the powers-that-be in Yakima Valley want to go shouting it from the rooftops, but there is a funny, semi-wine related and very charming movie set in the town of Prosser, smack in the middle of the Yakima Valley. It’s called “Cement Suitcase” and stars Dwayne Bartholomew as Franklin Roew. Franklin is a semi-slick wine salesman at a local tasting room, smack in the middle of a quarter-life crisis complete with a cheating girlfriend and a goofball roommate (as well as some unresolved grief about the recent death of his mother). It’s a great film to watch on the plane en route to your winetasting tour of the Yakima Valley. Cement Suitcase was directed by J. Rick Castañeda as his first feature film.

Photo of the Stone Chapel at Red Willow Vineyard by Agne27 via Wikimedia Commons

#5: The Yakima Valley has its own hilltop stone chapel: The historic and renowned Red Willow Vineyard, located in the far western part of the Yakima Valley AVA, has its own hilltop chapel. Built from stones collected during the original planting of the vineyards, the chapel is built at the apex of the Chapel Block of the Red Willow Vineyard at a height of about 1,250 feet.

References/for more information:

The Bubbly Professor is “Miss Jane” Nickles of Austin, Texas… missjane@prodigy.net

Zip and Zest: Five Fast Facts about Tartaric Acid (and Wine)

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Is it weird that tartaric acid has been on my mind a lot lately? I suppose dreams of tartaric acid are not so unusual for those inclined to the study of wine, and a little bit of a treatise on tartaric might be just the ticket to soothe my soul. So here goes, five fast facts about tartaric acid!

#1: When it comes to tartaric acid, grapes rule: Tartaric acid is one of the main natural acids found in grapes and —interestingly enough—grapes have a higher concentration of tartaric acid than any other fruit or vegetable. Besides grapes, measurable quantities of tartaric acid can be found in avocadoes, bananas, cherries, and grapefruit. However…for the record, most fruits and vegetables—including blackberries, blueberries, apples, apricots, peaches, pears, pineapples, plums, lemons, limes, oranges, and tomatoes—are high in malic acid and citric acid, but contain very little (if any) tartaric acid.

#2: Tartaric acid is tongue-tingling and truly tart: Tartaric acid is typically the strongest acid in both grapes and wine, as measured by pH and volume. Tartaric acid typically accounts for one-half to two-thirds of the acid content of ripe grapes. As such, tartaric acid is one of the most important fixed (non-volatile) acids in wine, along with malic acid.

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#3: Tartaric acid is strong and stable, part one: Tartaric acid is often used as an additive in winemaking (for good reason): In addition to the obvious impact on taste and flavor, proper levels of tartaric acid are important to the microbial stability of a wine. Tartaric acid resists decomposition and microbial attack, and is therefore often used as an additive  when acidification is needed. Malic acid, on the other hand, is easily broken down by malolactic fermentation or other processes. For these reasons and more, tartaric acid is the substance most often used when acidification is needed in the winemaking process.

#4: Tartaric acid is strong and stable, part two: Tartaric acid typically is contained in wine grapes at a concentration between 2.5 to 5 g/L at harvest, and it remains relatively stable throughout the ripening process. Conversely, wine grapes often contain more than 20 g/L of malic acid prior to veraison—however, a good deal of this is used for energy during respiration. Levels of malic acid at harvest are typically closer to 1 to 4 g/L. Tartaric acid is also metabolized during respiration, but at much lower levels than malic acid.

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#5: Tartaric acid is related to, but not (quite) the same thing as cream of tartar: Students of wine are sure to be familiar with the propensity of tartaric acid to form wine diamonds (particles that separate from the wine and look like tiny crystals of rock salt). Wine diamonds can form in the tank, during barrel aging, or in the bottle—particularly if the wine is subjected to cold temperatures. Tartrates can be prevented in the bottle via pre-bottling cold stabilization. Tartrate crystals scraped from the interior of oak barrels once inhabited by high-acid wines can be used to produce cream of tartar—a white powder that is often used as a stabilizing or leavening agent in cooking (particularly with egg whites, sugar work, or baking). Cream of tartar is basically partially-neutralized tartaric acid, produced by combining tartaric acid with potassium hydroxide. Cream of tartar, when used in baking, helps to activate baking soda, which is alkaline. As a matter of fact, cream of tartar combined with baking soda is the formula for baking powder.

References/for more information:

The Bubbly Professor is “Miss Jane” Nickles of Austin, Texas… missjane@prodigy.net

Five Fast Facts about the Mayacamas Mountains

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The Mayacamas Mountain Range is a short mountain range—stretching just 52 miles (80 km) in a northwest-southeasterly direction—but it is very well-known to wine lovers as the range that forms the dividing line between Napa and Sonoma counties. However, the famous Napa/Sonoma divide only accounts for about 30 miles of the famous mountains’ total length of 52 miles. Read on to see what else makes the Mayacamas Mountains famous!

#1—Cobb Mountain: Cobb Mountain, peaking at 4,720 feet (1,439 m), is the highest point in the Mayacamas Range. It lies just outside of the town of Cobb in Lake County. The mountain is located outside of the range of any Lake County AVAs, but is only about five miles south of the southern edge of the Red Hills—Lake County AVA (and the larger Clear Lake AVA). This portion of the Mayacamas is responsible for the rolling hills and high-elevation vineyards of the Red Hills-Lake County AVA, which range in elevation from 1,600 to 2,500 feet (490 to 760 m) above sea level.

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#2—Mount Saint Helena: Mount Saint Helena, located at the boundaries of Napa, Sonoma, and Lake Counties, has five peaks that form something of an “M” shape. One of those peaks is located within the Knights Valley AVA and is the highest point in Sonoma County. The second-tallest peak—at 4,200 feet (1,280 m)—is the highest point in Napa County (this peak is located within the Napa Valley AVA but to the north of the Calistoga AVA). Both of these peaks may be reached via hiking trails located within Robert Louis Stevenson State Park.

#3—The Napa River: Mount Saint Helena is the source of the Napa River. The Napa River runs for 50 miles (88 km) from the southeast slope of Mount Saint Helena through the revered Napa AVAs of Calistoga, St. Helena, Rutherford, Oakville, Yountville, and Oak Knoll (as well as the city of Napa) before heading towards the Napa/Sonoma Marsh. The last 17 miles of the Napa River take it from the Trancas Steet bridge in Napa to the city of Vallejo through the Carquinez Straits—a long estuary bordering and empyting into San Pablo Bay.

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#4—The Watersheds: Towards their northern edge—just before the Mayacamas Mountains blend into the Mendocino Range in Mendocino County, the Mayacamas Mountains form the boundary between the watershed of the Russian River (as it flows south into Sonoma) and Clear Lake. This is one of the differentiating factors between the terroir of Mendocino County and Lake County.

#5—The Howell Mountains: The famous Howell Mountain AVA (of Napa Valley) is actually located within a mountain range known as the Howell Mountains. The Howell Mountains blend into the Mayacamas in northern Napa just north/west of their famous namesake mountain and namesake AVA. The Howell Mountains begin just north of San Pablo Bay and form the border between the Suisun Valley (of Solano County) AVA and the Napa Valley AVA. From there, they extend to the north/northwest for about 40 miles (64 km), after which they blend into the Mayacamas. The Howell Mountains are also known as the Mt. George Range; the southern portions of the mountains are often referred to as the Napa Hills.

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In terms of mountainous parentage, the Mayacamas Mountains are considered to be part of the Coast Ranges of California—which (in addition to the Mayacamas Range) include the Vaca Mountains, the Mendocino Range, and the Santa Cruz Mountains. The Coast Ranges of California span for over 400 miles (640 km) from Humboldt County, through Mendocino, onward through Napa and Sonoma—all the way south to Santa Barbara County.

References/for more information:

The Bubbly Professor is “Miss Jane” Nickles of Austin, Texas… missjane@prodigy.net