This new issue of “Legends of Voronezh” special project focuses on the complex of buildings of the former distillery at the address 24 Koltsovskaya Street. In the old days, the State Wine Storehouse was located here, the reserves of which interested the revolutionary raiders in 1917. During the war, the plant worked for the defense. There are legends that the red-brick castle, reminiscent of a medieval fortress, hides underground passages.

Alcohol under control

The first distilleries appeared in Voronezh in the XVII century. In tsarist time, wine was called alcohol diluted with water. And if flavoring and aromatic additives were added to it and the drink was additionally distilled, it was already vodka.

The first distilleries appeared in Voronezh in the XVII century. In tsarist time, wine was called alcohol diluted with water. And if flavoring and aromatic additives were added to it and the drink was additionally distilled, it was already vodka.

The wine monopoly in the Voronezh Province was officially introduced on July 1, 1900. In Ostrogozhsk, Buturlinovka, Valuyki, Novokhopersk, Borisoglebsk and Voronezh, state-owned wine warehouses – huge factories producing “purified wine” from rectified spirit – were built.

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Alexander Baranov and his project

The largest warehouse for 500 thousand buckets of wine opened in Voronezh. The construction, grandiose for that time, was erected upon the project of Chief Architect Alexander Baranov, who held this position for 20 years, from 1886 to 1911.

– Baranov worked in the years of rapid growth of Voronezh and left elegant buildings, many of which were destroyed during the war. But quite a lot of his heritage has been preserved. The “Distillery” is a vivid example of his amazing architecture, guide Yelena Ustinova says.

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The works contractor was Semyon Stolovitsky, under whose leadership the factory was built in two years – from 1898 to 1900.

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Photo – courtesy of Vladimir Yeletskikh

Initially, the wine warehouse complex included three historic buildings – the main production building, the wine storage and the administrative building. The main building had four storeys (the fifth floor was completed in Soviet times). It is called the medieval castle of Voronezh for its extraordinary appearance.

Different researchers designate the architectural appearance of the state-owned wine warehouse in different ways: someone sees the nascent modernist style, someone is certain that the pseudo-Russian style is present here, someone figuratively calls this style red-brick. In general, this is eclecticism – a mixture of styles, Yelena Ustinova believes.

The miracles of drinking production

The new wine factory for Voronezh opened on July 2, 1900, with a large crowd of people. This could not be missed by the first persons of the province – Acting Governor Alexei Khvostov, Acting Province Marshal of Nobility Ivan Alisov and Bishop of Voronezh and Zadonsk Anastasy. Journalists and workers were invited to the celebration.

– The premises of the State-owned wine warehouse were decorated with garlands of greenery and flags. As is often the case, a red ribbon was cut, ardent speeches were made at the warehouse opening ceremony, guide Yelena Ustinova tells.

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A prayer service was held in the largest hall of the wine warehouse, the bottling section. The bishop gave a speech in which he noted that insobriety is a pernicious passion that paralyzes the will. That is why measures in the form of the introduction of state-controlled sales of “spirits” are so necessary.

The guests saw how wine in the workshops equipped with the latest technology was made. There was even a special laboratory – a rarity for that time. Impressed by the tour, the journalists of the Voronezh Telegraph wrote that from now on there would not be a drop of fusel oil in the state wine that would stand on the tables of Voronezh citizens.

After the ceremonial opening of the wine warehouse, the honored guests were invited to the festive table, full of dishes, and then each was given a souvenir bottle of “green snake”, and the workers were treated to cakes.

Unusual packaging

At first, at the State-owned wine warehouse, vodka was produced only in wooden barrels. Since 1905, glassware bottling started. The process was extremely labor-intensive: the bottles were washed, corked and tarred round manually.

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– They tried to clear rectified alcohol as much as possible. Further, it was possible to make various alcohol-containing beverages on its base. The main product of the company was vodka. For example, huge elongated bottles of 26 liters – 1/4 bucket of vodka, “sorokovka” – 1/40 part of a bucket, “sotka” - 1/100 part of a bucket, and “merzavchik” – 1/200 part of a bucket, Yelena Ustinova said.

Thanks to the wine monopoly, the number of drinking establishments in the city noticeably decreased: in 1903, only six taverns remained. The Voronezh citizens bought purified vodka through state wine shops, which signs were decorated with double-headed eagles. They opened away from churches and educational institutions.

Drunken haze of the revolution

In 1914, Nicholas II introduced the “dry law”. It was cleverly evaded: the taverns guests, after drinking “tea” from the samovar, made drunken fights, and the townspeople moonshined. Those who did not have money for vodka and moonshine drank cologne, polish, denatured alcohol and varnish. Historian Pavel Popov notes that during the war and the two revolutions alcoholism became a mass phenomenon.

Pharmacists skillfully evaded the “dry law”. For example, the pharmacy of the heirs of pharmacist Ludwig Myufke released “Economical” cologne – it contained no impurities and it seemed it was specially created for those who liked strong drinks. Pharmacies began to order alcohol from the Excise in incredible quantities: in January 1915 alone, they ordered as much of it as they took for the entire previous year. Only one Myufke’s pharmacy sold 42 buckets of cologne per month. After that, the authorities ordered not to sell more than one bottle per customer.

In 1915, the state stopped the production of alcohol: all state-owned warehouses were full and became a tasty morsel for the revolutionaries. Immediately after the February Revolution of 1917, demolitions of wine warehouses began.

In the early fall of 1917, a wine warehouse was looted in Ostrogozhsk. Then soldiers were sent to the city, who poured the remaining alcohol and set it on fire.

On the night of October 12, 1917, 1.6 thousand bottles of alcohol were stolen from the Voronezh state-owned wine warehouse, and several days later the guards detained a group of armed soldiers who were trying to rob an alcohol storage facility.

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The Voronezh military squadron, whose headquarters were located nearby in the former Governor’s House, had constant access to the state-owned wine warehouse. With the permission of the revolutionary and member of the Provincial Committee Alexei Moiseyev, alcohol was given out to the militants allegedly for technical needs, but in fact they took it twice a day – for lunch and dinner.

– I think that this circumstance left an imprint on the behavior of the combatants who robbed the citizens and brutally killed them in the backyard of the former Governor’s House, Yelena Ustinova said.

The case in Buturlinovka continued the chronicle of the pillaging of wine warehouses, where on November 11, 1917, during a raid on the state-owned wine warehouse, alcohol was plundered and the barn was set on fire. An explosion occurred during the fire. The fire and the subsequent shootout caused injuries to 100 people, 18 of them burned.

Fearing attacks, the Voronezh authorities ordered to pour the alcohol from the cellars of the state-owned wine warehouse into the gutter. There are legends that, having learned about this, crowds of citizens came there with kettles and buckets.

Distillery during the war years

In the Soviet times, the State Wine Storehouse warehouse was renamed into the Distillery. In 1925, it started producing bitter and sweet liquors – “Zveroboy”, “Zubrovka”, “Polynnaya”, “Spotykach”, “Zapekanka”, “Nezhenskaya Ryabina”.

In 1941, the Distillery partly became a defense enterprise: apart from vodka, it was producing inflammable mixtures for the army needs. In 1942, the plant was partly dismantled, and the enterprise was moved to the city of Biysk of Altai Krai. It was never returned. However, the plant had resumed the production of vodka upon assignments of the Ministry of Defense immediately after the liberation of Voronezh.

The Distillery was not destroyed in the Great Patriotic War years, but it took damage. The plant was saved by the incredible thickness of its walls: they could only collapse upon a direct bomb hit.

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In 1943, the citizens began restoring the enterprise. They were working around the clock. A female roofing worker crew had worked on the construction. “The women mastered this specialty in the war years replacing their husbands who had gone to the frontlines to protect their motherland”, - the regional radio stated.

As a result, the Distillery had gained its today’s appearance. By 1946, the restored the purification workshop had been launched, and the liquor workshop had been half-restored. By 1949, all the plant’s workshops had been fully restored.

– According to the recollections of long-term residents, in 1970s-1980s the Distillery was producing such liquors as “Myatny” (Mint), “Limonny” (Lemon), “Vanilny” (Vanilla), and “Apelsinovy” (Orange). Vodka cost 3 rubles 62 kopecks, and “Extra” brand vodka cost 4 rubles 12 kopecks. There were also such vodka brands as “Russkaya” (Russian), “Pshenichnaya” (Wheaten), and “Sibirskaya” (Siberian). The prices remained static for a long time and began to grow in the early 1980s – they were pushed by the 1980 Olympics and the developments in Afghanistan, - Yelena Ustinova recalls.

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Photo – courtesy of Vladimir Yeletskikh

Mysteries of Distillery

The Distillery’s landmark – the enormous brick chimney of the boiler-room – is still active. It can be seen on the pre-revolution postcards picturing the State Wine Storage, although it has an inscription saying “1923, USSR”. If the chimney was built in 1923, it could not have been pictured on old photos. So where did this inscription come from?

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The chimney could have been damaged during the Civil War by artillery shells, and could have been restored in 1923. However, the case may be even simpler: the USSR was created on December 30 of 1922, and 1923 may be simply a record of historic fact – the first year of a new country.

The owners of the Distillery’s premises also talk about one more mystery: according to geologists who had done the reconnaissance and digging works, the main building of the wine storage was built without a foundation – instead, the contractors had used massive stones. But in this case, how has such a tall building managed to remain for almost 120 years?

But that’s not all. They say that excavation works in the basement of the former State Wine storage revealed that there were remaining parts of underground passages under the complex.

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According to former staff of the Distillery, the first underground passage led from the production workshop to the railway station, the second – from the spirit storage to Petrovsky Public Garden.

Local historian Vladimir Yeletskikh and historian Pavel Popov are skeptical about this information. They noted that underground passages were built under fortresses and cathedrals, and the area around Lesnykh Dvorov Street (the old name of Koltsovskaya Street) used to be the city’s outskirts. There was no point in creating underground passages under the building.

Nowadays

There is nothing left of the once profitable enterprise: the Voronezhsky Distillery owned by the Visant Company had gone bankrupt in 2012. The premises of the former enterprise are owned by Voronezh supermarket network Pyatyu Pyat.

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They say that there are bags with dried up berries still stored inside the empty workshops of the plant – the Voronezh Distillery used them to make natural juices, fruit drinks and fruit liqueurs.

There are two remaining staircases in the workshop formerly used for mixing water with spirit: the first a very old cast-iron staircase with a mark of the Voronezh Gausman and Bukhonov Plant.

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The second one built in the Soviet times is flimsy and dangerous to use. On the floor of the abandoned workshop there is practically intact pre-revolution tile produced by the Kharkov plant of manufacturer Eduard Bergenheim.

– The owner of the ceramics plant Eduard Bergenheim was Swedish, and among his distant relatives was officer of the imperial army and future President of Finland Gustaf Mannerheim. He was married to a Voronezh landlady and came to Kharkov to improve his Russian, - Yelena Ustinova adds.

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The Distillery has old arched basements. Here and there are so-called Monier arches – overlapping structures that look like jack arches against a small span leaning on iron or steel beams rigidly embedded into the brick walls. However, according to witnesses of the reconstruction of a part of the building, time has not spared the metal beams – they have fallen to pieces.

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The bankruptcy of the Visant Plant that used to own the legendary Distillery did not put an end t the history of this place: it is gradually becoming a trendy cultural site. A part of the main production building has been restored and now contains the Regional Department of Architecture and City Planning, a restaurant and a beauty salon.

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The founders of the Vinzavod (Distillery) space created in September of 2018 have cleaned up a part of the adjacent spirit storage building by developing the courtyard – it now has an ice-rink and will host street concerts, exhibitions and theatrical readings during warm seasons.

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However, the restoration has not yet affected the nearby two-storey workshop – the fenced building is in an unsafe state and thus closed. It also has things worth restoring – for example, an old staircase hundreds of Voronezh residents would like to look at.