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Disney backs out of wine promotion

July 28, 2007|Marc Lifsher | Times Staff Writer

C'est la vie, Remy. The Mouse has decided that Costco's wine aisle is no place for a cartoon rat.

Walt Disney Co. said Friday that it had abandoned the wine business -- even before its first bottles of Ratatouille Chardonnay were scheduled to hit the big-box store's shelves in August.

Bottles of the French 2004 vintage white Burgundy were to carry labels featuring Remy, the haute-cuisine-loving rodent who stars in "Ratatouille," the latest movie from Disney's Pixar Animation Studios.

Disney said it and Costco Wholesale Corp. canceled the promotion after getting flak from California winemakers and opponents of underage drinking.

"We've decided to just not go through with it," Disney spokesman Gary Foster said. "We've been getting a trickle of inquiries and complaints."

A spokeswoman for Issaquah, Wash.-based Costco would only say, "We have decided to withdraw this product prior to any bottles being available or sold in the market."

In a decision that Burbank-based Disney called unrelated, Chief Executive Robert A. Iger announced Wednesday that Disney-labeled films would no longer show characters smoking.

Disney's Foster said the pressure to pull the Ratatouille wine had been particularly strong from the California Wine Institute, a San Francisco trade group that represents 950 California wineries. He said domestic vintners were upset that the film promoted a French product.

"The California Wine Institute has been relentless in trying to make this an issue" that it's a French wine, Foster said. "But the entire movie is based on a French restaurant and French food and wine."

The institute applauded Disney's move and denied that it had any problem with the Ratatouille wine's Gallic appellation. "We would have been just as upset if it were a California wine," said Nancy Light, an institute spokeswoman.

She said her group complained to Disney because the Ratatouille label, with Remy holding a rat-sized glass of wine, appeared to violate the spirit of the code of advertising standards that all institute members must follow. The code bans the use of any advertising that might appeal to people below the legal drinking age by using photos of very young models or cartoon characters, Light said.

"We were in touch with [Disney]. We basically shared the code with them," she said. The institute also voiced its concerns with the attorneys general of various states, Light added.

In a separate, unrelated action, regulators at the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control said last week that they had opened an investigation into whether the Disney-Costco wine marketing program might have violated state liquor laws. Matthew Seck, chief of the trade enforcement unit, said he expected to close the inquiry once he got a formal notice from Disney that it no longer planned to sell the Ratatouille wine.

Foster said Disney canceled the wine deal to avoid a possible Internet-fueled controversy about underage drinking.

"It was going to be a small offering" -- 500 cases -- "and we thought it would be best not to proceed with it," he said.

marc.lifsher@latimes.cm

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