Vinotherapy: Self Nurturing with Wine

It was only a matter of time. Eventually today’s scientists would realize what Cleopatra knew all along. There is more in the grape than a glass of wine.

Recent research would have us believe that polyphenols – the naturally occurring antioxidants found in grape seeds – are 50 times more effective in protecting the epidermis than vitamin E. These antioxidants guard the skin from the damage of free radicals associated with smoking, pollution and sunlight, all of which cause – ugh – premature wrinkling.

But wait. There is more.

The acids found in fruits act to sluff off the epidermis, giving the skin a fresher, more radiant look. Grape’s tartaric acid is less harsh than the citric acid in lemons, a popular ingredient in beauty products in recent years. Because the humble pip is rich in saturated fatty acids that are easily absorbed into the skin, grape derivatives are also being touted as powerful moisturizers.

Et voila! The age of Vinotherapy. Proponents believe that as well as imbibing a couple of glasses of wine a day to keep our arteries in free-flowing form, we should be bathed and massaged with it.

Leave it to the Bordelais to find a way to put all those left over pips and skins to good use. Mathilde Cathiard Thomas, a business whiz with a passion for the cosmetic industry, is the daughter of the owners of Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte. Barely out of university, she worked with pharmacology professor Joseph Vercauteren, of the University of Bordeaux to develop a line of skin care products using the byproducts of the wine-making business – her parent’s, in this case. In 1995, she launched the Caudalie line with two creams and a nutritional supplement. Today the company uses over 100,000 tons of grape pips annually to produce the 25 products sold in the poshest shops worldwide. The enterprising Mme Thomas has even trade marked the name ‘vinotherapie’ as well as ‘wine spa’.

In 2000, Thomas opened Les Source de Caudalie, a luxury spa situated amidst the chateau’s vineyards, a mere 30 minutes from downtown Bordeaux. Instantly it became a stop on the jet-set circuit. Madonna and Princess Caroline of Monaco are reported to be among the regulars who indulge in the spa’s most popular treatment, the barrel bath.

Imagine yourself in a wood-clad Jacuzzi that looks like a wine barrel, immersed in warm, frothy water infused with a concoction of powdered grape extract and essential oils. The water comes from a spring 450 meters below ground that is rich in fluoride and iron. While you marinate, your eyes gaze out on the sun-dappled vineyards. Your thoughts stray no further than the chateau’s cellar and the promise of the wine tasting that awaits and an overnight in the estate’s country house hotel. This sybaritic route to health and well- being has to be the ultimate indulgence.

Thomas then opened a day spa at the Hotel Meurice in Paris, another in Las Vegas and at press time, was in preliminary discussions for a facility near Montreal.

As spas open around the globe at an astounding rate, many are locating a stone’s throw from world-class wineries; others, in the heart of a vineyard. A few are eschewing the vinotherapy trend. Take the new Burgundy spa at La Cote d’Or in Saulieu, for example. For decades, gourmets have flocked to this idyllic country haven three hours east of Paris to indulge at the three-star Michelin restaurant owned by one of France’s best-known chefs, Bernard Loiseau. The restaurant and spa are part of a 35-room restored Burgundian residence, a member of the prestigious Relais & Chateaux chain. Aware of the demand for a spa component in a luxury inn, Bernard’s wife, Dominique, developed the facility and its treatments and opted for an exclusive line of beauty products from Paris, sans vino. But then you wouldn’t expect a true blue Burgundian to carbon copy Bordeaux.

Over in Spain, Hotel Golf Peralada, is a resort situated at the golf course in the medieval village of Peralada, about an hour’s drive north of Barcelona. Its spa is the first in the country to feature vinotherapy treatments. The neighbouring Peralada Winery supplies many of the ingredients

Of all the wine-growing regions of the world, South Africa is right up there vying for the most beautiful. Serenite, the country’s most luxurious spa retreat, is an exquisitely restored Cape Dutch manor house tucked away into the lush slopes of the Constantia valley, 45 minutes south of Cape Town. Since opening four years ago, it has become so popular, that the owners, Axel and Elizabeth Brandt, are developing plans for four more. The first will open early in 2003 in the midst of a Franschhoek vineyard. While the emphasis at the flagship facility is a holistic approach to de-stressing, health and wellness, at Serenite Winelands, the focus will be on vinotherapy. In conjunction with a French laboratory,Elizabeth Brandt, has developed an exclusive line of grape seed products .

Closer to home at Niagara’s White Oaks Resort, spa owner Sheila Spear has been using cold pressed grape seed massage oil since 1987. Last year, working with a local winery, she developed a pulverized grape seed exfolliant. At harvest time, she purchased a year’s supply of seeds, freezing them in zip-lock bags until needed.

I’ve come to expect the world’s wine regions to be, if not breathtakingly beautiful, at least beautiful and the resorts they spawn, equally bucolic and photogenic. The exterior of White Oaks Conference Resort and Spa, by contrast, is a hard-edged, gray building that could easily be mistaken for a road-side industrial complex as you whiz by on Queen Elizabeth Way. Do not judge this facility by its façade. Once inside you discover a five-star, contemporary, boutique hotel with a spa that is a dream and an oasis of tranquility. Everything here is soft – the colours, the music, the lights, the robes.

Spear’s signature vinotherapy treatment, Nectar of Niagara Wrap, starts with an exfoliating scrub. Mud made with clay and grape pulp is applied and massaged in long, smooth strokes all over the body. Then you are wrapped in heated blanket, treated to a mini facial featuring a warm honey and wine masque and left for ten minutes to drift off into your own little world. I fell asleep in an instant and could have spent the rest of the day in this Bacchanalian utopia. But the hydrothepay tub was waiting. A moisturizing massage with grape seed oil completes the hour and a quarter treatment. Clients are encouraged to linger in the meditation room until ready to re-enter the chaos of their lives.

Toronto residents need travel no further that Front Street and the Elizabeth Milan Spa at the Fairmont Royal York Hotel to experience The Grapes of Bath, an hour and a half of indulgence that includes a steaming Sauvignon whirlpool bath, a light exfoliating Merlot massage, a nourishing body mask and cocoon wrapping capped off with an application of Chardonnay body lotion. Elizabeth Milan’s on-going quest for new and innovative treatments lead her to research the vinotherapy trend before introducing it onto her menu of spa delicacies. “People get bored very fast,” she says. “They’re always eager to try something new.”

For exactly the same reason, Debra Pender of the Okenagan’s Beyond Wrapture is adding grape seed products to her list of services. The spa’s overnight retreat is scheduled to feature products of local vineyards – both by the glass and in the bath.

Cleopatra would love it.

Wine Access March 2003