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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, July 26, 2013 - Volume 41 Issue 30
Stoli CEO: We're on your side - Vodka maker addresses open letter to LGBT community
Section One
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Stoli CEO: We're on your side - Vodka maker addresses open letter to LGBT community

by Shaun Knittel - SGN Associate Editor

The wave of anti-LGBT violence that has engulfed Russia is approaching a fever pitch. In response, many advocate groups are calling for boycotts of the companies that call Russia home, and some are also asking the U.S. Government to boycott the 2014 Winter Olympics, to be held in the Russian city of Sochi.

Among the companies caught in the crossfire is the one that makes Stolichnaya ('Stoli'), a well-known vodka that many people reflexively identify with Russia. But the company, SPI Group, actually is based in Luxembourg, and the Stoli distillery's roots are in Latvia. In an effort to clear up any confusion, company CEO Val Mendeleev issued an open letter to the world's LGBT community on July 25.

'The recent dreadful actions taken by the Russian Government limiting the rights of the LGBT community and the passionate reaction of the community have prompted me to write this letter to you,' Mendeleev began.

'A FERVENT SUPPORTER'
'I want to stress that Stoli firmly opposes such attitude and actions. Indeed, as a company that encourages transparency and fairness, we are upset and angry. Stolichnaya Vodka has always been, and continues to be, a fervent supporter and friend to the LGBT community. We also thank the community for having adopted Stoli as their vodka of preference,' said the CEO, whose brand is sold in Gay clubs and bars across the world.

'In the U.S., the brand's commitment to the LGBT community has been ongoing for years. Among the best examples, I can cite the series produced by Stoli in 2006 called Be Real: Stories From Queer America, which featured short documentaries on real-life stories depicting the challenges and accomplishments of the LGBT community in the United States,' continued Mendeleev.

'Stoli is very proud of its current exclusive national partnership with Gaycities.com and Queerty.com in search of the Most Original Stoli Guy,' he said. 'This is a fantastic program that started as a local initiative in Colorado and became a national platform. Previous national initiatives included serving as the official vodka of the Miami Gay Pride Week as well as ongoing events with focus on Pride month.

'Some great examples from other parts of the world are the support to the Durban Gay Pride in South Africa, the Pride Parade in Vienna [&] and the Tel Aviv Pride Parade.'

NO RUSSIAN CONTROL
Mendeleev said the letter also gives him the opportunity to clear up some of the confusion surrounding the Stolichnaya brand, based on facts found online that often inaccurately link the company to the Russian government. Russia's current rulers have no ownership interest or control over the Stoli brand, which is privately owned by SPI Group, headquartered in Luxembourg in the heart of Western Europe.

'Stoli's production process involves both Russia and Latvia,' he said. 'Stoli is made from Russian ingredients (wheat, rye, and raw alcohol) blended with pure artesian well water at our historic distillery and bottling facility Latvijas Balzams in Riga, Latvia (formerly part of the Russian Empire and then of the Soviet Union). Latvijas Balzams did not recently become part of the Stoli heritage, but has been one of its main production and bottling facilities since 1948. This has allowed the brand to deliver the outstanding quality it is recognized for consistently across the years. What changed in the last years is politics, with Latvia becoming an independent state [and] part of the E.U.'

Mendeleev ended the letter by saying, 'We fully support and endorse your objectives to fight against prejudice in Russia. In the past decade, SPI has been actively advocating in favor of freedom, tolerance, and openness in society, standing very passionately on the side of the LGBT community, and will continue to support any effective initiative in that direction.'

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