The Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board has announced that it has directed the Fine Wine & Good Spirits stores and its website to stop buying and selling Russian-sourced products in protest of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
The move came hours after Gov. Tom Wolf, joining with governors of other states looking to make a statement, sent a letter to the board to identify Russian-sourced products currently being sold at Fine Wine & Good Spirits stores.” Wolf called it “a show of solidarity and support for the people of Ukraine, and an expression of our collective revulsion with the unprovoked actions of the Russian state.”
Liquor board chairman Tim Holden said, “Given the evolving political-economic climate, it’s just the right thing to do.”
Smaller groups have boycotted certain Russian products over the years, most notably in 2013 after Russian President Vladimir Putin instituted antigay legislation. Sunday’s statement by Pennsylvania — one of the nation’s largest purchasers of wines and spirits — is rare, but likely will not have a major economic impact.
PLCB spokesman Shawn Kelly on Friday told The Inquirer that it had identified only two major Russian-produced brands with products on the shelves of Pennsylvania’s stores: Russian Standard and Ustianochka, both 80-proof vodkas. About a half-dozen special-order items, which the PLCB could not readily identify Sunday, also are Russian.
Russian Standard is owned by Roustam Tariko, a Russian oligarch, while Ustianochka is produced and bottled in Russia for Amruss Inc., an importer based in Beaver Falls, Pa., that sells its product only in Pennsylvania. Company owner Margaret Bayuk told The Inquirer on Saturday that she hoped that any backlash against Russian imports would subside quickly.
All told, the Russian products identified by the PLCB represent a mere fraction of sales — less than $1.1 million (about 0.06%) out of more than $1.7 billion of total spirit sales over the last 52 weeks, Kelly said.
The PLCB said it would not be restricting sales of Russian-branded products that are not sourced from Russia, as doing so could unfairly and adversely impact those brands.
The “Russian” label can be hard to pin down in this global economy. Bar owners around the nation have been ceremoniously dumping the popular Stolichnaya brand. In its assessment last week, the PLCB had determined that it is not Russian, though it is made at least partly from Russian wheat and may in fact be originally distilled there and sent to a facility in Latvia to be filtered, proofed down, bottled, and shipped. Latvia, a former Soviet republic, happens to be a NATO member.
It’s owned by a company in Luxembourg that is controlled by Yuri Shefler, a Russian-born billionaire who left Russia about 20 years ago during a tiff with the Kremlin. Over the weekend, Stoli posted a message on its website that “Stoli Group stands for peace in Europe and in solidarity with the Ukrainian people #LiberateUkraine.”
Smirnoff, another popular brand, was founded in Russia, but it is owned and produced by Diageo, a British company with no ties to Russia. The Smirnoff consumed in the United States is made in Illinois.
The LCB said it would release a list of any Ukrainian wines and spirits on Monday.
Chuck Moran, head of the Pennsylvania Licensed Beverage and Tavern Association, called Pennsylvania’s move “a reasonable option for the commonwealth to take to show its disapproval of the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the damage the attack has done to world peace.”
Moran said pulling Russian spirits from bars could be “a minor inconvenience for some, but national American brands like Tito’s from Texas and locally made vodkas ... are good options when mixing drinks that require vodka.”