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

Rotling Revival

 

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This week I happened upon a few examples of Rotling—served at the home of a friend fresh off a Paris-to-Switzerland river cruise. I don’t know much about Rotling, besides the fact that it is type of German rosé, and I can’t remember the last time I tasted (or even thought about) Rotling. It is obviously time for a Rotling revival!

The basics: according to the Wines of Germany website, Rotling is a German rosé made by blending red and white grapes (or red and white must) together prior to fermentation. The “prior to fermentation” detail is very important, as this is NOT a pink wine made by blending together red and white wine (that’s frowned upon in most European PDO wines). Rotling must be pale pink to light red in color, but it may be produced in various levels of sweetness, varying levels of spritz (from still to Perlwein or Sekt), and from a range of grape varieties.

Throughout the course of a very long morning, I googled down many a wine-website-rabbit hole trying to find Rotling for sale in the US. I wasn’t successful in finding a bottle available in Texas, however, I did learn that Rotling is widely enjoyed throughout Germany and Central Europe, often served as a “wine by the glass or carafe” or packaged as a bulk wine. There is also a good deal of bottled Rotling available in Europe at a good, quaffable price—sometimes as low as five euros for a liter bottle.

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The details: There are a few specifically-defined types of Rotling:

  • Schillerwein is a Rotling produced in the Württemberg wine region; it must be at least Qualitätswein-level quality. According to Dr. Christian Schiller, writing on the i-winereview.com blog, the wine’s name is derived from the verb “schillern,” meaning “to scintillate”—a reference to the wine’s brilliant (scintillating) color.
  • Badisch Rotgold is a Rotling produced in the Baden wine region; it also must be at least Qualitätswein-level quality. Badisch Rotgold must be produced using Grauburgunder (Pinot Gris) and Spätburgunder (Pinot Noir), with Grauburgunder as the majority grape, and the grape varieties must be declared on the label.
  • Schieler is a Rotling from the Sachsen wine region; it too must be at least Qualitätswein-level quality.

The wines: here is a bit of information about the wines I was lucky enough to sample:

  • Castel-Castell Rotling Trocken 2016: This wine was a beautiful, bright-but-light watermelon hue. This wine is produced in the Franken wine region from a blend of Müller-Thurgau and Acolon (a Blaufränkisch X Dornfelder cross) grapes. This is a crisp, fruity, delightful wine with aromas and flavors of ripe berries (raspberries, strawberries), a whiff of baking spice and a floral note.
  • Weingut Heinrich Basten Rotling Feinherb 2016: This wine was slightly lighter in color, but still had a delightful “light-reddish” color and crystal-clear-clarity. Nicely crisp but slightly sweet, this wine had aromas and flavors of raspberry, cherry, and tangerine, with a slight hint of nutmeg and (yum) marshmallow. This wine is a blend of Müller Thurgau und Spätburgunder (Pinot Noir).

In Germany, from what my friend tells me, they have no problem drinking Rotling in December—or any other time of year…so now is as good a time as any to reach for a Rotling!

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

I’ve been Shattered

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As a good student of wine, I can tell you what shatter, aka coulure is. I can even quote (probably verbatim) the information on it from the CSW Study Guide—here goes!

“A malady known as coulure (“shatter” in English) can cause poor fruit set, with many flowers failing to become fully developed berries.”

Yep. That’s it—and that was about the extent of my knowledge until one night when I suddenly wanted to know more. So, a few textbooks, websites, and phone calls later, here is what I now know about coulure.

For starters, the word is pronounced “coo-LYUR.”

Put simply, coulure occurs when a large number of a vine’s grape blossoms stay closed, or for some other reason they fail to become fertilized. These failed flowers never get the chance to develop into grape berries but rather shrivel and fall off the vine.

In French, weather-induced coulure is referred to as coulure climatique, and the main culprit behind coulure is indeed the weather.

  • The uncooperative weather—when too cold, rainy, or wet (shatter is a bigger threat in areas with marginal climates)—slows down the plant’s rate of photosynthesis, which leads to carbohydrate deficiencies in the vine. This deficiency causes the vine to conserve its resources, and the energy that would go into ripening flowers and fruit is diverted elsewhere. The blossoms eventually shrivel and drop off, along with the small stems that attached the blossoms to the vine.
  • Excessively high temperatures during flowering and fruit set can cause coulure—again as a result of the shut down of photosynthesis—as the necessary enzymes lose their shape and functionality. In a prolonged heat event, coulure may be caused via excessive shoot-and-leaf growth as well as cellular respiration, either of which can lead to carbohydrate deficiencies.

Photo by Hvczech (Public Domain/via Wikimedia Commons)

Besides the weather, coulure can be caused by overly-fertile vineyard soils and excessive use of high-nitrogen fertilizers, both of which can lead to excessively vigorous vine growth that can drain a plant’s carbohydrate reserves. Another possible cause is overly vigorous pruning, which can fail to provide enough potential for the growth of amount of leaf grown necessary for photosynthesis. In addition, certain grapes, such as Grenache, Malbec, Merlot, and Muscat Ottonel are particularly prone to coulure.

Coulure is not always preventable, but some good practices to follow include:

  • Taking care not to over-prune and encouraging the vines to develop enough leaf coverage to provide for adequate photosynthesis.
  • Tip-trimming (snipping the tips of developing shoots) near the end of the flowering period can help prevent carbohydrate deficiencies.
  • In some places, performing winter pruning late in the season may reduce the risk of coulure by delaying bud break which in turn increases the probably for warmer weather at flowering.

Hopefully, all this chitter-chatter has cleared up a bit about shatter (sha ooobie shatter)!

References/for more information:

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

Grape Invaders: Caladoc, Rosé du Var, and Couston

Photo of Caladoc by Vbecart, via Wikimedia Commons

A few weeks ago (on November 15 and 16, 2017),  France’s National Committee of Appellations of Origin (INAO) relating to wine and spirits held a meeting. In addition to discussing the yields and conditions of the 2017 harvest, the committee approved a few requests for experimentation within the scope of some existing AOCs.

A few of these were quite interesting. For instance, the Blanquette de Limoux AOC is going to test machine harvesting, and the three AOCs of Chablis (Chablis AOC, Chablis Grand Cru AOC, and Petite Chablis AOC) are going to test the use of anti-hail netting.

However, what really caught my eye was the approval of some experimental plantings in two AOCs. Two experimental grapes— Caladoc and Rosé du Var—were approved for testing in the Côtes de Provence AOC. Caladoc was also approved as a test subject in the Côtes du Rhône AOC, as was Couston. I am not too familiar with any of these grapes, so now seems like a good time to do some research on these grapes. Here’s what I found out:

Caladoc: Caladoc is a red-skinned grape, created as a Grenache X Malbec cross by Paul Truel while working in Montpellier in the 1950s. The goal, which was achieved, was to create a variety resistant to coulure (shatter). The grape produces red wines that are deeply colored, full-bodied, and tannic, but it is most often used in fruity rosés.

Caladoc is currently planted to more than 6,000 acres (2,420 ha) in France and is used in Vin de France and Vin de Pays, but it is not approved for any AOC-level wines. However…the grape is quite respected in Portugal, and allowed for use in at least seven DOCs, including Arruda, Alenquer, Torres Vedras, Óbidos, Do Tejo, Beira Interior, and Encostas d’Aire. The grape has also made its way to Spain, Argentina, Lebanon, and Brazil.

Rosé du Var: Rosé du Var is a pink-skinned grape variety native to the Var département of Provence—an area also famous for Fréjus Cathedral, Bandol, and the beaches of Saint-Tropez. The grape also goes by the name Roussanne du Var—but (confusingly, but not surprisingly) it is not related to the Roussanne of the Rhône. The parentage of Rosé du Var has not been confirmed, but it is believed to be one of the many offspring of Gouais Blanc.

Rosé du Var grapes form big bunches and big berries, and can be vinified into white or rosé styles of wine—neither of which tend to be very flavorful. It is perhaps for this reason that the grape variety is not currently approved for use in any of the AOC wines of France, although you will find it used in both blends and varietal wines in Vins de France and IGP/Vins de Pays (particularly in Provence and other areas in southern France).

Photo of Couston by Vbecart, via Wikimedia Commons

Couston: This grape appears to be quite an obscurity (it didn’t even show up in the wine grape tome-of-tomes, Wine Grapes [see below]). I did find a few websites with a bit of information, and it does appear in the Catalog of French Wine Grapes. From these few references, I was able to find out that Couston appears to be a natural crossing, discovered by one Mr. Julien Couston, in the 1970s. The grape is believed to be the offspring of Grenache and Aubun Noir (a red variety native to the Northern Rhône). Couston is a vigorous vine known to produce grapes capable of creating full-bodied, full-flavored, and tannic red wines with rich cherry-like aromas.

It is anticipated—but by no means assured—that the INAO will sometime in the future approve these grapes for limited use in the above-mentioned AOCs of France. In all likelihood, if they are approved, they will be limited to a certain percentage (10% to 20%, for instance) of the final blend. We’ll have to wait and see what happens!

References/for more information:

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

Crafty Cocktails: The Staycation/Aviation

Classic Aviation Cocktail

It’s no secret that folks in the wine and spirits industry tend to travel a bit, and the anh (adorable new husband) and I are no exception. Having just returned from a trip to the Pacific Northwest followed by a 3-week drive halfway across the United States (via weirdly silent-driving-freakish-hybrid rental car) and with the memory of a disastrous trip to Asia (Beijing hospital, Hong Kong emergency room) fresh in our minds, when we recently found ourselves with a long weekend free of work obligations, we decided to stay the h*** home.

As we live in Austin, Texas, there’s no shortage of cool and fascinating things to do around town. We started off with Friday night dinner at Fonda San Miguel, complete with authentic Paloma cocktails, and planned a trip to Genius Liquids distillery on Saturday afternoon. Before I go into details about Genius Liquids, let me just say: if you live in Texas, go visit them. If you like gin, be on the lookout for Genius Gin. This stuff lives up to its name.

To start off our tour, we were met at the door of the tiny distillery by Mike Groener, our brilliant host and one of the owners. He showed us around their facility, complete with a Kentucky-made pot still and shiny copper column still. We were invited to stick our noses in the maceration tanks where neutral spirits take their first step to becoming Genius Gin by soaking with giant “tea bags” of botanicals, and played a sniff-and-guess game with orange peel, cardamom, juniper, and cubeb berries.

All throughout our stay, we tasted through a range of gins, including “regular strength” Genius Gin (47% abv), Navy Strength Genius Gin (57% abv), an absolutely delightful Oaked Genius Gin (50% abv), and the amazingly richly-flavored-yet-somehow-light Old Highborn Texas Dry Gin (50% abv). My favorite was the “regular” version, while Shields preferred the Old Highborn, so we bought one of each.

At the beginning of our tasting, Mike asked us about our preferences in gins and cocktails, and I had mentioned Hendrick’s Gin and the Aviation Cocktail as favorites. Based on my answers Mike predicted that that the “regular” Genius Gin was the best choice for me and as it turns out, he was correct. He also mentioned that it would be an excellent choice for use in an Aviation Cocktail and that got me to thinking…

The Aviation Cocktail is a pre-prohibition cocktail, first mentioned in print by New York bartender Hugo Ensslin in his 1916 book, “Recipes for Mixed Drinks.” The basic recipe is 2 parts gin, 1 part lemon juice, a few dashes of maraschino cherry liqueur, and a few dashes of crème de violette. I assume the name “Aviation” refers to the light blue(ish), purple(ish), clear-sunset-sky(ish) color of the drink.

I feel that the standard recipe needs a bit of sweetness, and I also have my ingrained preferences for liqueurs, so I have always used this formula for the Aviation Cocktail: 2 parts gin, 1 part Luxardo Marsachino, 1 part Creme d’Yvette, 1 part lemon juice, and ½ part simple syrup. My mixing instructions read, “Place in a shaker with crushed ice and toss about like a jet plane in a thunder storm. Strain and enjoy the calming effects.” Imho, it’s delicious.

For the Genius Gin, I wanted to come up with something unique—and I had the perfect ingredient: a brand new bottle of Sacred Rosehip Cup. This is a modern, bittersweet liqueur produced by Ian Hart at his microdistillery—located in his family home in Highgate, North London. Sacred Rosehip Cup is flavored with rosehips, rhubarb, and ginger (among other things). Hart bills it as a “less bitter alternative to Campari” so (shades of Negronis danced in my head) and I thought it would make a great mixer with gin.

Here’s what I came up with: I call it the Staycation/Aviation Cocktail (with a tip of the hat to Hugo Ensslin):

Staycation/Aviation Cocktail (Austin Style)

  • 2 parts Genius Gin
  • 1 part Sacred Rosehip Cup Liqueur
  • 1 part Lemon Juice
  • 1 Luxardo Maraschino Liqueur
  • ½ part Simple Syrup
  • Place in a shaker with crushed ice and shake. Strain into a fancy glass, garnish with a (real) Maraschino cherry, and stay the hell home.

References/for more information:

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

Napa’s Neighbor

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In the southeast corner of the North Coast American Viticultural Area (AVA), the boundary lines of area extend just a few miles beyond Napa County to include about 30,000 acres of Solano County. Here you will find two AVAs—the Solano County Green Valley AVA and the Suisun Valley AVA—literally feet away and across a political boundary from the esteemed Napa Valley AVA. That has to be a bit like being the awkward little sister of a beauty queen, or the geeky big brother of a star football player. However you want to describe it, it has to be tough being Napa’s neighbor.

In the interest of shining some light into this corner of the wine world, here is a bit of information on the AVAs of Solano County, California:

Suisun Valley AVA:  The Suisun Valley AVA, located just to the south of Napa County, lies between the southern edge of the Vaca Mountains (to the east) and the Howell Mountains (also known as the St. George Mountains [to the west]). The AVA is about 8 miles long and three miles wide, covering about 15,000 acres—of which about 3,000 acres are planted to vine.

The Suisun Valley enjoys a relatively cool climate (it is classified as “Region III” under the Winkler Scale), but is significantly warmer at its northern edge. The southern end of the valley, adjacent to Suisun Bay, can be cooler by as many as 14 degrees (F) during the heat of the day. Suisun Bay itself forms the beginning of the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, and is connected via the Carquinez Strait to San Pablo Bay (to the west).

The Suisun Valley was first recognized for the quality of its red wines, particularly Cabernet Sauvignon and Petite Sirah (Durif). These grapes are still widely grown in the area, which is now planted to more than 20 other grapes as well. These include Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Zinfandel, Pinot Gris, Gamay, and Chenin Blanc.

There are just over a dozen wineries producing wine within the confines of the Suisun Valley AVA, and several dozen more that produce wine under the Suisun Valley appellation while located in adjacent counties. Sunset Cellars, the Vezér Family Vineyard, and Wooden Valley Winery are among the standouts.  The Vezér Family Vineyard calls the Suisun Valley “the Petite Sirah Capital of the World”— who can resist that?

Solano County Green Valley AVA: The Solano County Green Valley AVA (not to be confused with Sonoma’s Green Valley—the Green Valley of Russian River Valley AVA) is smaller and cooler than the Suisun Valley. Solano’s Green Valley AVA measures just about four miles long by one mile wide and has about 800 acres planted to vine.

Solano’s Green Valley AVA is located just to the south/south east of Napa, and enjoys a maritime climate due to its proximity to Suisun Bay. At last count, the area has just a few wineries—including GV Cellars and Rock Creek Vineyard—and just over a dozen independent grape growers.  The area is known for red varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Sangiovese, Dolcetto, Zinfandel, and Petite Sirah, but a handful of other grapes (including Chenin Blanc and Pinot Gris) are grown here as well.

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Wine production in Solano County has a well-documented history. We know that an Australian by the name of John Volypka planted vines in the area as early as 1858 and was making wine by 1863. Others followed—Harry Schultz soon had a large winery, and by 1879 S.F. Jones had 90 acres of vines and produced 50,000 gallons of wine a year.

In 1952, Ben Volkhardt Jr. bought 80 acres of land in Green Valley. He planted peaches, pears, and grapes, but soon the business focused on grapes and wine. His son—Ben Volkhardt III—joined the business in 1974 and the two formed the Chateau de Leu winery—which survives to this day as GV Cellars (under different ownership).

Based on petitions filed by the Volkhardts, both the Suisun Valley and Solano Green Valley were awarded their AVA status in 1982, making them among the first wave of AVAs approved in California. The first AVA declared in California—in January of 1981—was their neighbor-to-the-north, the Napa Valley. Perhaps you’ve heard of it?

References/for more information:

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