Yup… I’m going down in history as a Variety versus Varietal old fart, and I don’t care.
I first wrote about his on May 11, 2007.
Then, I brought it up again on March 11, 2011.
My most recent post for this one was on July 3, 2012.
Now, it’s July 2014, and it’s circled back around again… Steve Heimoff asked the question on his Facebook page, and the answers are very revealing. Of course, I couldn’t help myself from weighing in:
“Variety is a noun,” and “varietal” is an adjective.
E.g., I love the varietal characteristics of this variety.”
That said, so many people have used it incorrectly for so long that dictionaries are now bending the rules. It will come as no surprise that those trained in viticulture (who were awake during that class), and those who prefer to be grammatically correct, will go with variety and varietal as you’ve used them. I was pretty much denounced on a women’s wine blogger group for being an old fart, not willing to get with the times. I’m okay with that… It is what it is, and those who use it incorrectly just don’t know – or care – about the difference. Still, I look at how people use it and then know how long they’ve not really been writing about wine. I’ve also noticed that it is from people who haven’t studied viticulture and enology… the primary experts on wine.
Fourteen people actually liked my comment. As my fellow Facebook people know, this is a good amount of likes on a simple response. One person wrote, “Hallelujah Jo Diaz! I feel like I’m a one woman variety vs varietal crusade!” Those weighing in did so with relief, and that makes me very happy, honestly.
So I wrote, “Now, if we spell things incorrectly, or use commas where there should be periods… Yeah, no one would like that…” and this is so true. We don’t want spelling to break down, nor do we want grammar to break down, but adjectives and nouns? Hum…
The pros – one would think – lead the way for writers
With wine specifically (along with biological classifications) the word “varietal” has a legal definition, to wit: §4.23 Varietal (grape type) labeling.
(a) General. The names of one or more grape varieties may be used as the type designation of a grape wine only if the wine is also labeled with an appellation of origin as defined in §4.25.
(b) One variety. Except as provided in paragraph (c) of this section, the name of a single grape variety may be used as the type designation if not less than 75 percent of the wine is derived from grapes of that variety, the entire 75 percent of which was grown in the labeled appellation of origin area.
I believe if we’re wine writing, we should also lead through example, not from conforming to improper grammar… Just an honest opinion. My wine sales and marketing degree program… I worked so hard for those 60 units, that’s why I can’t simply bend, because it’s become fashionable. I think if you’ve worked hard for anything, and understand the differences between right and wrong, you’ll strive to be correct… I don’t care what profession or craft it’s in. (When I’d knit a sweater, if I realized 10 rows up that I had dropped a stitch, I’d tear it out to the mistakes and begin again; because, anyone looking at the finished product – most especially a fellow knitter – would see the flaw.)
Then, I noticed that Wilfred Wong, another of my writing buddies, has also taken off on the variety versus varietal debate, but it came through on Ron Rawlinson’s time line thanking Wilfred. Again, I couldn’t resist commenting:
One would think that if a person wanted to write about wine seriously, correct grammar would be part of the process. Then, there’s a whole new generation of writers about wine, who aren’t really wine writers… They’re slang hobbyists; so, they could give a poop. They like to call themselves artists, which gives them a get out of jail free card.
And so the debate rages on…
I’m a stickler for using the right word, and try very hard to get things write right. I’m not perfect, but if I know a rule, I’m going to use it to preserve the purity of our language. For instance, any time I use the word “ain’t”, I’m poking fun at not using the right word. In a conversation, I just don’t go there.
Someone once said to me, after I had said, “It is I.”
“‘It is I?’ …. Isn’t it, ‘It’s me?'”
No… sorry, you missed school the day that one was explained. “Is” is a copulative verb (the verb “to be”), and takes a subjective pronoun after any use of the verb “to be.” It is I, it is she, it is he, it is they, it is we… etc.)
When I came into the wine business, I learned most of what I did from others for the first few years. Then, I decided to take copious college units to catch up, which included viticulture, enology, sales, marketing, PR, Spanish I and II, wine components… the list goes on…
In all of that, I never came across which word is correct to use in which instance; “variety” and/or “varietal.” Then, on a wine blog I saw something that made me stop and take notice.
David Graves of Saintsbury Vineyard made reference to the misuse of the word “varietal.”
He certainly got my attention. I didn’t know I could be using the word incorrectly. I sent David an E-mail asking him to please explain… Because I have to write so much, and use the word as much as a mother uses the word “milk” with kids, I don’t want to be misusing either word.
Here’s his explanation, and we all need to take notice, if we’re responsible for copy writing…
“Variety is a noun, and varietal is an adjective, which I learned at UC Davis.”
Today, the word has been misused so often that dictionaries have simply given up and are now including the word “varietal” as a possible noun. It pains me to see that which is wrong become right simply because of misuse and abuse. It is I who will be sticking to its original forms. It perhaps doesn’t matter to most of the rest of us; but, there are a few diehards left out there, and I celebrate each one as I see the word used correctly. [Fingers on the chalk board, for those who don't.]
I’m sure there are much bigger issues burning on everyone’s mind today; but I needed this slight diversion right now, as I write “variety” one more time and reflect on its abuse. I see it on a daily basis, and today I let the dogs out…
Both David Graves and Michael DeLoach have been in the wine business for a long time. When you’re in the business, you’ve learned protocol. I wish that the new breed of writers could respect protocol and educate people along a literate path, simply by what they say and do… One can only lead by example… For me, literacy rules over trendy…