Monday, December 12, 2005


Wine by the Glass, or by the Bath
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Posted online: Sunday, December 11, 2005 at 0000 hours IST

A fire flickers. The moon falls on persimmon trees outside. The rooms are full of roses, soft mood-setting music. And on a soft autumn night alive with sounds of water splashing in pools and leaves crackling in the wind, here in the heart of the Sonoma Valley, at the nation’s first vinotherapy spa, who wouldn’t be in the mood ... for a cabernet bath.

Champagne facials, wine massages—these have been available at scattered spas across the country. But, Kenwood Inn says it is the only American spa expressly dedicated to intoxicating all senses with fruits of the vine.

Science has long suggested a connection between polyphenols, which are found in grapes, and good health and longer life. American wine sales are booming. And regional treatments—papaya scrubs in the tropics, maple body wraps in Canada, even chocolate baths and massage in Hershey, Pennsylvania—are hot.

It was but a matter of time before so-called vinotherapy—already a developing trend in Europe—hit big in California wine country and beyond. ‘‘Essential grape-seed oil, honey, salt,’’ murmurs Diana, my vinotherapist, as she slathers grape mix onto my skin. Yes, she says, she believes the scientific claims made about grapes and their anti-oxidizing powers. ‘‘Look at the vines,’’ she says, motioning outside the window.‘‘Vines endure forever. No matter what the weather. They grow and grow. And keep bearing fruit.’’ The idea dawns on me: If all goes well, I’ll emerge from the vinotherapy scrub looking like a grape—tight-skinned on the outside, plumped up and supple within, ready, like the vines on the California hills, to weather whatever comes, with freshness and resilience. Diana sprays grape water on my face. ‘‘That’s the water left when grape seeds are rinsed from the fruit,’’ she says. ‘‘It hydrates.’’ The treatment ends with a final shot of grape elixir on the brow.

Spa trends and, increasingly, obsessive international interest in anti-ageing have helped propel word about vinotherapy and its heady promise across the Atlantic. At the new Patios de Cafayate wine spa in Argentina, in the shadow of the Calchaquo Valley, guests can have baths in barrels of bubbling waters spiked with cabernet and can recharge afterward in a blend of grape syrups, juices, pips and oils. As far away as South Africa, wine lovers at the Santo Winelands Wellness Centre can choose between shiraz or chardonnay cocoon wraps; they can also submerge in wine caskets that pulse with cabernet jets and underwater music, or have a face mask with vineyard flowers and enjoy a range of seasonal grape-related activities.

‘ Guests can have baths in barrels of bubbling water spiked with cabernet, can choose either
shiraz or chardonnay cocoon wraps, and can recharge
afterward in a blend of grape syrups, juices, pips and oils
A French company, Caudalie, entered the picture in 1993, trademarked the word ‘‘vinotherapie’’ and helped push the concept into consumer consciousness. According to company legend, Mathilde and Bertrand Thomas, who later founded Caudalie, took a professor of pharmacology at the University of Bordeaux and a group of students through their Bordeaux winery. ‘‘Good lord!’’ one supposedly exclaimed when the tour wound past a mountain of discarded grape seed. ‘‘Those seeds are worth a fortune. They fight free radicals.’’ Shortly thereafter, Caudalie—the word is French for the amount of time during which wine flavour stays on the palate—introduced a line of grape-based skin-care products and dispatched company representatives to help get the word out about the benefits of grape-seed products, rich in vitamins C and E.

Terry Grimm and his wife, Roseann, who ran the Kenwood Inn—then a 12-room B & B whose guests included Goldie Hawn, Barbra Streisand and Bruce Willis— heard about the vinotherapy boom in Europe and formed a partnership with Caudalie in 2002.

‘‘It isn’t hard to explain,’’ says Mary Blackmon, founder and chief executive of, a Web site devoted to updates on spa services. ‘‘Our romance with wine is in full swing. People are more concerned than ever about anti-ageing. Spas are becoming more a part of people’s life than ever before. And spa-goers are very interested now in finding more unique treatments.’’

With spas moving toward increasingly personalised services, can custom-blended vinotherapy treatments be far behind? Pick your own grapes, blend a vinolift serum that is just right for your own skin type and blend it carefully into your own skin? Could this be the next step in individualised, regionally produced spa treatments? ‘Yes, I’ll drink to that,’’ says Terry Grimm. And bathe in it too, perhaps.