Pernod Ricard, the distributor for Stolichnaya vodka, has won the latest round in US courts to keep the trademark for the name. However, the battle continues in Russia over the name and whether Stolichnaya is actually produced in Russia. There is a parallel case in the United States over whether the vodka is actually distilled in Russia, too.
…although they have won one battle, a second battle remains unresolved — this time concerning Stolichnaya’s claim to be “genuine Russian vodka.” The Russian government argues that the labelling is misleading because the vodka isn’t exported from Russia but actually comes from Latvia. Indeed, S.P.I. and Pernod Ricard are forbidden from selling their version of Stolichnaya within Russia itself.
To add a further twist to this complex Russian tale, another vodka maker — Russian Standard — is weighing in on the Russian government’s side. Owned by Moscow-based vodka entrepreneur and banker Roustam Tariko, Russian Standard launched its own premium vodka, Imperia, in the U.S. last year. In promoting Imperia, Tariko claimed that Imperia — not Stolichnaya — was the only authentically Russian vodka on the U.S. market. That provoked an angry reaction from Allied Domecq, which threatened legal action.
On. Apr. 6, just three days after the U.S. court ruling on the Stolichnaya trademark, Russian Standard repeated its claims in a statement issued to the media. Russian Standard “maintains that Stolichnaya brand vodka is not authentically Russian, and believes that Stolichnaya’s marketing messages are inaccurate and misleading to vodka consumers,” the statement said.
So what exactly is the row about this time? When the Russian government stripped S.P.I. of its right to the Stolichnaya brand in 2002, it also banned the company from exporting Stolichnaya vodka from Russia. That’s when S.P.I. responded by moving the bottling of Stolichnaya to Latvijas Balzams distillery in Latvia. Yet the Stolichnaya on sale in the U.S. continues to be labelled as “genuine Russian vodka.” S.P.I. and Allied Domecq testified in the U.S. court that the vodka continues to be produced in Russia, at distilleries in Kaliningrad and Tambov.
They say it is then shipped in bulk to Latvia for bottling and export to the U.S. Russian Standard is now challenging that claim. The company cites Russian customs documents that apparently show that none of the vodka shipped from Russia to Latvia in 2004 and 2005 was registered as Stolichnaya, or used the Stolichnaya recipe. “If Stolichnaya vodka comes from Latvia rather than Russia, then they should be honest about that. We think they should be proud of their Latvian heritage,” Tariko commented in the Apr. 6 statement.