How Russian is Stoli Vodka?
Michelangelo Signorile spoke with Stoli CEO Val Mendeleev on his radio show on Monday, July 29, discussing the recent call among the LGBT community for a boycott of Stolichnaya vodka and other Russian brands due to Putin's reactionary policies against gay men and women in Russia prior to the Winter Olympics in Sochi.
In the interview, Mendeleev made sure to separate himself and the company from Russia (although as can be seen in its former advertising campaigns, created in a Russian Constructivist poster style, that bond was heavily promoted), explaining that he and Yuri Scheffler—the billionaire owner of SPI Group, which is based in Luxembourg—are "ex-Russian" and that Stoli is "not a Russian company." It also turns out, according to Mendeleev, that Stoli vodka is not even allowed to be sold in Russia (although it does sell several other brands there), and the company is in a legal dispute with the Russian government, which is trying to take over Stoli worldwide.
As Signorile reports:
"Scheffler, Mendeleev said, left the country 10 years ago, lives in London and Switzerland, and has since been in a bitter business dispute with the Russian government. Both men, Mendeleev said, condemn the Russian anti-gay policies, as did the company in an open letter several days ago. SPI group, Mendeleev said, owns the Stoli name worldwide but is not allowed to sell the brand inside Russia, where a state-owned company owns and markets it; because of the dispute, SPI changed the label on the bottle to say 'premium' vodka, from 'Russian' vodka in 2007."
Mendeleev admitted that the company did operate a distillery in Russia that employs "several hundred" Russians, but he said the company has been diminishing its Russian-based workforce.
“We produce more than 100,000 bottles of Stoli every day,” Mendeleev said. “It’s not so easy to shift production immediately. But if you look at our activities over the past few years, we’ve been reducing them in Russia.The distillery in Russia produces raw alcohol, which is one of the ingredients for vodka. But actually, the distillery that finishes it, that produces vodka, which mixes the raw alcohol from Russia with the artesian water in the Baltics, is actually happening at our distillery in Latvia.”
Mendeleev also pointed out that the company is seeking a "global or local chairty to which it could donate money to help fight the anti-gay government repression in Russia, and would be making an announcement in coming days.
Listen to the full interview below: