Friday, 5 April 2013

Kina Lilet, Saint-Aubin-de-Blaye

Elaborated c. 1887, and launched in 1895 (the delay being due to the phylloxera "plague" that decimated the vineyards of the Bordeaux region in the 1870s-1880s) Kina-Lillet rapidly became the leading product of Maison Lillet, a wine and spirit trading business founded by Raymond and Paul Lillet in 1872 in Podensac, a small town on the River Garonne 30 km south of Bordeaux. The demand for fortified wine was growing rapidly at the time and the Lillet brothers came up with a recipe that combined 15% liqueur, itself a mix of bark from the Peruvian cinchona (the tree the bark came from was believed to be called kina-kina in Quechua, hence the name of the new beverage), peels of sweet and bitter oranges from Spain and of green oranges from Haiti, and brandy, with 85% white wine from the Sauternes area.

The fame, and sales, of Kina-Lillet rose rapidly thanks to its pleasant refreshing taste and to the successful advertising and marketing campaigns that emphasized the high quality of wines used in its preparation. After a few years the two brothers decided to concentrate solely on their aperitif and stopped acting as agents for other chateaux and distillers. After the Second World War, contrary to many of its competitors, Lillet avoided decline by crossing the Atlantic and conquering the US market, in particularly with Lillet Rouge, a version of the drink prepared with red instead of white wine and developed especially for US customers in 1962.

Between 1986 and 1990 the recipe was slightly altered to cater for changing tastes. As a result Lillet is now less sweet and less bitter than it used to be.

'Kina-Lilet', 'Kina-Lillet', 'Lilet' or 'Lillet'? These are all the same. 'Kina' featured on the bottles sold in France and continental Europe. It was dropped at some point in the 1960s or 1970s. Because of customs regulations the word was never printed on the labels of bottles heading towards the UK or the US. With regards to the spelling of the name, it should always have been 'Lillet', as this was the surname of the two brothers. However these wanted people to pronounce it properly ([li'le] and not [li.jɛ]). Consequently they allowed advertising agencies and sign painters to spell it with only one 'l' if they thought it would be more appropriate. This explains why ghost signs with both spellings can be found around France.

Kina-Lilet was not the first ghost sign painted on this wall. Even if only two letters of the earlier sign can still be seen to the left of 'Kina-Lilet', it is easy to recognise this was a ghost sign for Dubonnet, one of Lillet's main competitors.

Dubonnet /

Location: D 137, Saint-Aubin-de-Blaye, Gironde / Pictures taken in May 2012

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