Wine coolers are making a comeback

Improbably, the summer of 2016 has been all about the wine slushie.

Even the arbiter of aesthetic propriety and sophistication, Vogue, approves. From the foodie and celeb-gourmet paradises of Manhattan’s Quality Italian and the uber on-trend Momofuku Noodle Bar, slushies are pouring forth as more-refined versions of the 7-Eleven Slurpee — but consumed with the same irreverent approach to caloric intake and lust for thirst-quenching summer fun as the much-derided Wild Cherry brain-freezer commonly favored by the hoi polloi.

But wine snobs looking forward to the bracing winds of fall so they can finally guzzle their room-temp reds in peace should take note: the fun, high-end wine beverage trend looks like it may be here to stay. This time in the form of (ready the smelling salts): wine coolers.

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The beverage director of Momofuku restaurants worldwide, Jordan Salcito, is on the cusp of releasing her own line of wine coolers, Ramona Fizz, and like everything else she tackles with her trademark zeitgeist-y panache, it’s pretty much destined to be a critical success and something every aging cool kid wants, like, now.

“I created it, because I wanted it, and it didn’t exist,” Jordan tells VinePair, when asked why a master sommelier candidate who directs the beverage program at one of the most powerful restaurant groups in the world, and has already founded a socially conscious, organic, terroir-driven wine company called Bellus Wines, would attempt to reignite a beverage trend with more bad press than acid-washed jeans and the forehead sweatband. “I grew up in the ’80s and as an adult, I had a real nostalgia for the wine cooler of the 1980s. Beer has never sounded delicious to me, and I wanted to create a wine drink that I could bring to the beach or on a hike, times when a glass of wine wasn’t precisely what I was craving.”

In the 1980s, wine coolers were typically cheap wine mixed with a startling array of artificial fruit flavors and carbonated water, weighing in at roughly 6-7 percent ABV. Two old, cranky white men known as Bartles and Jaymes and Bruce Willis shilled for the alcoholic sugarpop in its various guises. The parachute-pants and scrunchy-wearing public gulped it down, driving the market from zero sales in 1980 to 40 million cases by 1985 (California Cooler is credited with kicking off the craze in 1981).

But in 1991, the government quintupled the excise tax on wine, causing many manufacturers to switch to malt-based mixes. By 2006, the wine cooler market was less than 0.1 percent..

While Jordan wanted to bring back the spirit of the cooler, her nostalgia hasn’t overridden her penchant for quality ingredients. “I wanted to recreate the wine cooler,” she explains. “Not replicate it. Ramona was conceived to embody the fun and silliness inherent to the wine cooler, but made with integrity, and our values and expectations for a delicious beverage in mind. Our first line of Ramona, which we are canning right now, is made with all-organic grapes from Sicily and organic grapefruit and sugar.”

Jordan is launching Ramona with one successful product line already under her chicly cinched belt. And her motivation the first time around was similar: she wanted to make something for herself and her friends that she couldn’t find anywhere else.

For Ramona, Jordan will also work closely with her current network of winemakers for the wine base itself, and like her Bellus line, the grapes will be grown organically. “Organic grapes are just more delicious and speak of the land to me more evocatively,” she says.

Even in the 1980s (and despite the primarily male spokespeople), wine coolers were thought of primarily as a “chick drink.” Jordan knows that.

“We are not consciously going to target any particular sector of the market, but from conversations with friends, yes, this is probably something my girlfriends are more interested in,” Jordan says.

Women, after all, are making most of the wine-buying decisions these days, according to Nielsen Data. Women drive 70-80 percent of all consumer purchasing. Women consume about 57 percent of the volume in wine and 51 percent between the ages of 21 and 24 say organic and sustainable products are important when making purchasing decisions (38 percent of women overall feel that way). Women are also generally more likely to plan their wine purchases and buy wines they’ve never heard of based on recommendations from friends or family.

Jordan is still working out distribution deals, but come September, chances are if you live in New York your favorite purveyor of small-batch, high-end organic goods will be stocking Ramona Fizz. The rest of the country? She’s coming for you.