By Dan Berger
People who like dry table wine are often seen as well above the soda pop culture that seems to have pervaded Americans’ drinking habits for decades, mainly because wine is generally considered to be dry or at least very slightly sweet.
Soda contains a lot more sugar than most people realize (or maybe they realize it and simply don’t care).
And for that reason wine coolers became a phenomenon in the late 1970s across America and by the mid 1980s the product was selling literally tens of millions of cases per year.
The wine cooler has been transformed over the years from what it originally was. It started out to be a flavored pop wine with lower alcohol, but with as much sugar as most soft drinks.
In that way, it was sort of like sangria and really was far more akin to hard cider than to soda pop itself.
Soon after it became popular, it continued to change as the larger producers became far more sophisticated at producing it. Their main goal did not involve quality as much as profitability.
California Cooler was one of the first major success stories when two high school friends from Lodi, CA, joined forces to produce the first major introduction of a flavored cooler.
There was no pretense about this product. It was not intended for the wine cellar, the wine fridge, the wine chiller, or wine refrigerators.
Essentially it was intended to be quickly chilled and quickly consumed direct from the container. Even pouring it in a glass was considered to be an act performed only by dilettantes, and the aroma of the product was really sort of artificial.
And that’s because it was.
Artificial flavorings were added to many of these products, which were related to the United States government’s legal wine category called a “special natural,” in which flavorings may be used.
Things got really interesting after that.
The major two brands at the time were E&J Gallo’s Bartles & Jaymes Coolers and Seagram’s Wine Coolers and both companies soon realized that it made no difference what the source of the alcohol was. Originally it had been made from grapes that were fermented.
However, because of the use of strongly scented flavorings, the grape was completely immaterial, and both companies also realized that the use of alcohol coming from a grain-brewing process worked just as well, and the cost of that alcohol was much lower than was alcohol from grapes.
As a result the wine cooler, from a technical point of view, became a beer cooler, but the name of the product remained “wine cooler” and then simply it was a cooler.