How an Act of Congress Killed the Biggest Beverage Trend of the 1980s

Long before hard seltzers, wine coolers were all the rage

Frank Bartles and Ed Jaymes on a porch
Frank Bartles (r.) and Ed Jaymes hoped viewers of this commercial liked the name of the wine cooler, because they had already printed the labels. Bartles & Jaymes

“Wine coolers have come out of nowhere,” declared our columnist George Lazarus in September 1984, and the man was right.

Odds are, anyone who remembers the Reagan Era also remembers sipping these cloyingly sweet blends of jug wine, carbonated water and juice. In issue after issue, Adweek, which is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year, dutifully covered the proliferation of wine cooler brands.

None of these was bigger than Bartles & Jaymes, which fizzed its way to the top of the category thanks to TV spots starring two suspender-wearing galoots named Frank Bartles and Ed Jaymes inviting America to chill with a pink grapefruit cooler. America did—at least until 1991, when Congress raised the wine excise tax from 17 cents a gallon to $1.07. Almost overnight, the party was over.

@UpperEastRob Robert Klara is a senior editor, brands at Adweek, where he specializes in covering the evolution and impact of brands.