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The Story Behind Bartles and Jaymes Wine Coolers

by Kimberly Lin

In 1984, two old codgers appeared on our TV screens who would charm America into running straight to the liquor store. Frank Bartles and Ed Jaymes sat on their front porch while Frank explained the story about the new wine cooler they planned to launch using fruits from Jaymes’ fruit orchard and wine made at his own grape vineyard. The dry, funny commercials would become smash hits that ran for seven years until 1991, and their Bartles and Jaymes wine coolers would become top sellers that flew off the shelves.

bartles and jaymes

Image Credit: Joel Ottersbach / Bartles & Jaymes)

The ingenious marketing campaign, created by the advertising mogul, Hal Riney, was somewhat based on the real brothers Ernest Gallo and Julio Gallo, who created the E & J Gallo Winery in 1993 after the end of Prohibition. Their humble beginnings were made possible when Ernest’s mother-in-law gave them $5,000 in start-up capital. With the knowledge they gathered from University of California pamphlets on how to make wine, E & J Gallo grew into a company with an estimated $10.7 billion in revenue (2016). Although the company boasts many successful product lines, Bartles & Jaymes was one of the most important for a time.

Bartles and Jaymes Commercials

Bartles and Jaymes’ success is attributable to the humorous commercials. David Rufkahr played Bartles and Dick Maugg played Jaymes. Rufkahr had been in the Air Force most of his life and, later, was a cattle rancher. Maugg was a general contractor in California and had been a long-time friend of the ad creator, Hal Riney. As neither of them had been actors, their innocence and believability shined through as they trumpeted the value and drinkability of their concoctions. The gimmick was that while Bartles spoke of the tastiness of the coolers and pleaded to the world to help Jaymes pay off his second mortgage, Jaymes remained silent throughout each commercial.

In fact, they were so believed by the American public, that according to David Colker of the LA Times:

When Bartles said in the first commercial that Jaymes ‘took out a second mortgage on his house’ to help start their wine cooler business, letters came in offering help to pay off the mortgage.

David Colker

The ads always ended with Bartles humbly saying: “… and thank you for your support.”

Market Success

Bartles & Jaymes became the #1 best-selling wine cooler. As the ’80s decade closed, it was more popular than ever and was featured at parties, social events, sporting events, football Sundays at home – they were everywhere. Their varieties expanded wildly into numerous fruit-inspired concoctions. Many flavors came and went over the years, and there are still dozens of different varieties on the market today. Here are just some of their current offerings:

  • Fuzzy Navel
  • Lime Cosmopolitan
  • Body Shot Lime
  • Peach Bellini
  • Black Cherry
  • Raspberry Pomegranate
  • Blue Hawaiian

Decline of Wine Coolers

In the early 1990s, there was a downfall of the wine cooler due to the 1991 excise tax on wine, which rose from $0.17 a gallon to $1.07 a gallon. The prices of wine coolers went up for consumers, and this affected B & J’s young target market substantially. Regardless, Bartles and James weathered the storm and the line is still on the market today.

What Happened to Frank and Ed?

David Rufkahr (Frank Bartles) and Dick Maugg (Ed Jaymes) went from never having acted before to become the faces of Bartles and Jaymes wine coolers. In 1996 when Rufkahr (Frank) was 61 years old, he had a heart attack and passed away in Oregon. In 2015, Maugg (Jaymes) died of cancer at the age of 83. Neither of them is likely to be forgotten soon.

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