Whenever the Soviets do something rash, like invading Afghanistan or downing an airliner, the Americans pour bottles of Stolichnaya into the streets. It may make them feel better, but it doesn't do much for the Russian vodka.
Hence the Stolichnaya Pro/Am Series, a summer-long, six-city boardsailing competition that begins today in Annapolis. The vodka's image couldn't help but benefit from a refreshing association with wind and water -- so much better, in marketing terms, than air-to-air missiles.
Both the 1979 invasion of Afghanistan and the 1983 obliteration of a Korean Air Lines jet prompted spontaneous drainings of "Stoli" across the country, a ban from liquor stores in various states and a temporary decline in sales, all of which tended to stigmatize the vodka. "Just like the Italian wines," said Brenda Wilcox of Dorf & Stanton, the public relations firm handling the Pro/Am.
"The brand is obviously affected when there are great crises such as Afghanistan and KAL," said Larry Soll, an executive at Monsieur Henri, Stolichnaya's sole U.S. importer and the Pro/Am's main sponsor. "But when we don't have a crisis with the Soviet Union, people recognize Stolichnaya for being the best-quality vodka available."
"That's his opinion," said Ernie Capria of Carillon Importers Ltd., which markets the Swedish vodka Absolut, now neck and neck with Stolichnaya as the No. 1 imported vodka. Last summer Absolut sponsored a Hobie-Cat competition (apparently unconnected with the 1981 transgression of Swedish territorial waters by a Soviet sub), which may have given Stoli the wet and wild idea.
"This is only one promotion in our entire arsenal of promotional activities," said Soll. "There are many slings to our arrow."
Promotional arms race aside, a woman at the New York office of Intourist said boardsailing has yet to take off in the Soviet Union. "A few people do it at the Black Sea resorts. Perhaps you will have to take your own board."
Boris Malenkov, the Soviet Embassy's press counselor, said he had never heard of the sport and certainly didn't know how many of his countrymen do it. "I am not the God Shiva -- you know, the Indian god with many hands."
If Malenkov were the God Shiva, it would be to his advantage on a sailboard, especially if he attempted the "Stoli-Roller," a newly named freestyle maneuver consisting of a brisk 360-degree whirl.
Rhonda Smith, 29, the women's world champion boardsailor, will be demonstrating the Stoli-Roller today at Sandy Point State Park in Annapolis and throughout the summer in such locales as Falmouth, Mass., Hood River, Ore., and San Francisco.
"I have friends who keep Stolichnaya in the freezer," she said. As to the extent of her daily vodka consumption, "Are you kidding?" she replied. "Come on, I'm an athlete!"