Scientific Breakthrough! Turning A Mouse Into A Chicken

Ratatouille_chard_2July 30th, 2007.  A day that will live in infamy.  The day the mice over at Disney traded their ears for rooster’s combs.

I knew it was too good to be true.  Two weeks ago I wrote about the hit movie Ratatouille, and the wine it launched ("Waiter, What’s the Rat Doing in my Chardonnay?!").  I hoped we were witnessing the dawning of a new age for wine and food in America.  A way of thinking about wine as a food product, a product to be enjoyed with the family dinner, something that pulls families together in a way that is almost lost in today’s world of electronic connectivity.  The way wine has been enjoyed for centuries in Europe.

For two weeks I basked in the belief that this tide had turned in America.  Fellow foodies and wine lovers called to speculate whether America was finally awakening to the call of good food, good wine, good conversation.  We actually thought America was making progress against the forces of obesity, fast food, and microwaves.

And the thing is, I think we are.  At least as a society – to wit:

Somebody might want to inform Disney and Costco.  Yesterday, L.A. reported they canceled plans to introduce the Ratatouille wine.  Caving in, as Disney spokesman Gary Foster explained, to "…a trickle of inquiries and complaints." Whoa.  Must have been one powerful trickle.  (read the full story here, sample the trickle here)

I should have known, mice don’t have very strong backbones.  Not even the one worth billions.  Maybe, ESPECIALLY not the one worth billions.

But this small disappointment paled by comparison to the fact that a comrade in arms was integral in turning the tide against this new label.  The Wine Institute, a group purportedly in the business of promoting California wineries, campaigned heavily AGAINST the Ratatouille wine. 

They claim their opposition had nothing to do with its Gallic origins, that they would have been equally opposed if the wine had California roots.  They claim (and I must presume they did so with a straight face) their opposition was based on fear that the animated character on the wine label (photo at top) would appeal to kids.  Have they noticed the animated characters on the labels of Yellow Tail?  Red Bicyclette?  Rex Goliath?  Critter wines ad nauseum???  Hell the damn rat on the label isn’t even the one from the movie – a hotly-debated topic that burned phone lines between Cosco and Disney, I’ll bet.

I’m surprised and saddened to see the Wine Institute among those whose thinking goes something like "Wine is an evil thing, the Devil’s tonic, and we must protect our kids from it!"  I hear Carrie Nations circling her wagons as you read this.

I would prefer that Robert Koch, Steve Gross and the rest of the hard-working gang at the Wine Institute re-think their strategy.  Promoting California wine begins with promoting wine as a healthy beverage.  Why they decided their mission includes persecuting the one rat that has raised America’s collective awareness of fine food and wine, I’ll never know.  But I have asked them – Join me in registering disappointment by emailing them here.

This is only my opinion, but after half a century on this planet, I smell the stink of political expediency.  If this is any indication of how ready and willing The Wine Institute is to crumble into the demands of the neo-prohibitionists, those supporting fine wine and food should count on other institutions for support.

Dave Chambers, Wine Merchant

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