Wine Coolers

What ever happened to wine coolers?  In the 1980s, wine coolers were huge.  California Coolers, Bartles & Jaymes, and Seagram's Coolers were the biggest brands, but there were several others as well.  But by the early 90s, wine coolers had disappeared.  The good news for those of us who enjoyed wine coolers is that they now may be coming back.

The 1980s

Prior to the 1980s, wine coolers were a homemade drink made from white wine, carbonated soda, and fruit juice -- with additional sugar frequently added for an even sweeter drink.  California Cooler, introduced in 1981, was the first commercially produced wine cooler.  Flavors included citrus, orange, and many others.

The Bartles & Jaymes wine cooler was introduced in 1985, a few years after California Cooler.  But Bartles & Jaymes quickly became the leading brand, led in large part by the memorable advertising campaign featuring Frank and Ed, who ended every ad with "Thank you for your support."  Click here, here or here to see some of the classic Bartles & Jaymes TV ads. 

The Bartles & James wine coolers first came in just one flavor, which came to be known as "Original."  Later, a second flavor was added, known as "Red."  As the decade wore on, Bartles & James, like California Cooler, added more and more flavors to its product line -- including Black Cherry and others.  

Another popular wine cooler brand was Seagram's, with its Golden Wine Cooler.  This product had rapidly rising sales in the mid-80s due in part to its prominent television advertising featuring Bruce Willis.

The 1990s

By 1990, wine coolers seemed to be falling out of fashion, and sales dropped significantly.  Then, in 1991, the US congress, in its infinite wisdom, dramatically increased the excise tax on wine, making wine coolers significantly more expensive to produce. 

In 1992, California Coolers ceased production.  Bartles & Jaymes and Seagram's continued, but at some point around that time, they changed their formulas from being based on wine to being based on malt, which was cheaper from both a production and tax perspective.  [Note:  I've seen some suggestions that while in most states the Bartles & Jaymes coolers are malt-based, in some states they may still be wine-based.  But I have not been able to confirm that.]  These malt-based versions of Bartles & Jaymes and Seagram's could not longer be considered "wine coolers," although many people continued to refer to them as such. 

The 2000s

I've seen some indications that California Coolers have been available in Canada for at least a few years.  I was in British Columbia in August 2006, and saw several flavors of California Cooler on the menu of a restaurant where we stopped for lunch.  I ordered one (peach, I think).  More recently, I've done a couple of Internet searches and found several Canadian sites with references to California Coolers being available in various flavors -- including Original, Peach, Orange, Rockaberry, and Tropikiwi.

In 2007, California Coolers were reintroduced to the U.S. market.  Unlike other "coolers" currently on the market, which are almost all malt-based beverages, the new California Cooler stayed true to its roots and remains wine-based.  Thus, it appears that California Cooler is the only true wine cooler you can buy nationwide today. 

Click the following links for the original press release and brand overview.

They have been reformulated, however.  So these are not the same coolers you may remember from the 80s.  Although it's hard to compare tastes over a span of more than 15 years, they do not seem quite as sweet as the original versions, and there are new flavors.  The current line up includes four flavors:  Coastal Citrus, White Peach, Pomegranate Berry, and Cranberry Grapefruit.

Click the following links for a brand overview and the press release announcing the re-launch of California Cooler .  The official California Cooler website is at

Fans of true wine coolers can only hope that the effort to bring back California Coolers is successful.

Making Your Own Wine Coolers

Before California Cooler was introduced as a commercial product in 1981, wine coolers were a homemade concoction.  And with the virtual disappearance of wine coolers from store shelves in the early 90s, the best option for enjoying a wine cooler was to go back to their origin, and make them at home.  The simplest recipes involve just white wine (dry chardonnay or Chablis) and lemon-lime soda (usually in a 1:2 or 2:5 ratio).  Here are a few other wine cooler recipes that you can try.  Enjoy!

Citrus Wine Cooler
4 oz dry chardonnay wine
6 oz lemon-lime soda
1/2 oz grapefruit juice
1/2 oz pineapple juice
1/2 oz lime juice
1/2 oz lemon juice
Berry Wine Cooler
4 oz dry chardonnay wine
6 oz lemon-lime soda
1/2 oz blackberry juice
1/2 oz raspberry juice
1/2 oz strawberry juice
1/2 oz blueberry juice
Orange Wine Cooler
4 oz dry chardonnay wine
6 oz lemon-lime soda
2 oz mandarin orange juice
Peach Wine Cooler
4 oz dry chardonnay wine
6 oz lemon-lime soda
2 oz peach juice


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Last Updated 27 January 2008
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