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Russian Descendant Challenges U.S. Firm's Use of Smirnoff Vodka Name

March 20, 1994| From The Washington Post

MOSCOW — There are few things that a Russian takes as seriously as his vodka. And few Russians take it more seriously than Boris Smirnov.

The pudgy, bearded former KGB man is a descendant of one of the most famous vodka makers of all, Pyotr Smirnoff, who until the 1917 Russian Revolution produced spirits for Russia's czars. But today a huge American company, Heublein Inc., claims the right to the Smirnoff name, and its brand is selling briskly virtually across this vodka-imbibing country.

For Boris Smirnov, 35, this is nothing less than an affront to national pride and his family name--and one that he is determined to rectify by producing his own "genuine Smirnov" vodka and demanding exclusive rights to the name in the Russian market.

"Vodka is something Russian. Pyotr Smirnoff was Russian," said Boris Smirnov during a recent interview at the crumbling building in the heart of old Moscow, where his family's company stood until the Bolsheviks nationalized it. "We are not trying to manufacture Johnnie Walker Black Label here. We're not trying to make French champagne. We're trying to make something that belongs to us."

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