Vinotherapy

Amanda Marsalis

It started in Bordeaux in the nineties but only recently moved to northern California. Ann Marie Gardner reports on how five savvy Napa Valley resorts turned vineyards into spas.

Napa Valley has become the vinotherapy capital of the country.

Vinotherapy became all the rage nearly a decade ago, when the Vinothérapie Spa at Les Sources de Caudalie spa opened its doors in Bordeaux, France. Here, on the grounds of the Château Smith-Haut-Lafitte vineyard, spa-goers could spend the day soaking in wine-barrel baths, being massaged with grape-seed oil, and dining on the most fabulous five-course gourmet meals—all while drinking the château’s highly regarded wines. It was a novel approach, especially when the spa industry in the United States was busy cultivating denial: no coffee, alcohol, or food with taste. But when news began to spread about the antiaging properties of polyphenols in grape seeds and the anticancer effects of resveratrol—a compound found in the skin of red grapes—vinotherapy became the must-do beauty regimen. And Caudalie capitalized on the phe­nomenon, becoming the first company to patent a skincare line based on the findings. Next, with the Bordeaux spa fully booked year-round, Caudalie began opening facilities in Paris, California, Taiwan, Italy, and, just last year, at the Frank Gehry–designed Hotel Marqués de Riscal in Rioja, Spain. Two more outposts will open this year in Gstaad, Switzerland, and at The Plaza in New York City. Until then the Kenwood Inn and Spa in Sonoma Valley is the only Caudalie-sanctioned spa on these shores.

Napa Valley, in turn, has become the vinotherapy capital of the country. But is Napa the next Bor­deaux? (The French, of course, have argued no for years!) Our vinotherapy spa tour of Napa and Sonoma started at the southern end and continued north to the Alexander Valley. We checked out every conceivable grape-related treatment possible and found five resorts worth investigating further. Here’s what we found while being pummeled, powdered, and perfumed with grapes.

Calistoga Ranch and Auberge du Soleil

The leafy hillside of Calistoga Ranch is a two-hour drive from San Francisco International Airport. Arriving here at night is an assault on the senses. The crisp air is filled with the smell of wood burning in the fireplaces and fresh pine in the forest. Nestled in a canyon of the Palisades mountain range, this Auberge Resort is a small but practically perfect, dog-friendly lodge with 46 cottages—most with a private mahogany deck and oversize outdoor shower—on 157 acres. The wood cabins blend seamlessly into the surrounding landscape of hiking trails and ancient oak trees. The Bathhouse spa takes this Frank Lloyd Wright–like philosophy even further—from the outdoor lobby with its cozy sofas set before a roaring fireplace to the expansive views of green pine trees from the treatment rooms.

Even the vinotherapy treatments are consistent with the design, blurring the lines between inside and out. "It’s fitting for us to have wine experiences," says spa director Karen Ray. "We are in the heart of the vineyards."

One of the specialties is the Vineyard Crush body scrub, which uses finely milled seeds from grapes grown in Napa Valley. The seeds have been ground into a deep purple powder that smells earthy and turns to paste when mixed with water. The concoction is removed with exfoliating gloves that buff the skin smooth. Adding to the intensity of the mas­sage—and the comatose state one falls into during a session—is a deluxe heated water bed, the standard treatment table at all Auberge resorts.

Soaking in an outdoor tub of local grape juice is the highlight of the 30-minute Cab­er­net Wine Bath detox treat­ment. The pur­ple water is scorching hot: "to help the body release toxins," says Ray. But be warned, it releases the toxins so effectively that for an hour or so afterward, one’s skin may be blotchy—then it clears to a flawless finish.

Fifteen minutes away from Calistoga Ranch is its sister hotel Auberge du Soleil. The style here is more ele­gant Mediterranean than rustic ranch and the vinotherapy treatments use local olive oil, lemons harvested nearby, and roses from the garden. The resort’s hillside swimming pool features incredible views of the valley. For the Cabernet Wine Bath here, an enormous tub surrounded by leafy plants and olive trees is filled with essence of grape juice and flower petals. At the side of the bath are giant tea sachets of lavender and rosemary for exfoliating and a glass of wine that Auberge du Soleil’s sommelier chooses to complement the Cabernet in the tub and enhance the aromatherapeutic experience. The grape seed has a concentrated amount of antioxidants, which are said to seek out and attack the elements in skin that accelerate aging. In fact, according to the spa’s director, Susan O’Bryen, the combination of the bath and the grape seeds might even work to reverse the signs of aging.

The Carneros Inn

After experiencing the two flawless Auberge re- sorts, it’s a jolt to arrive at the Carneros Inn with its bungalow-style rooms arranged on the same grid as the trailer park that formerly occupied this stretch of land. It’s a unique design for a luxury property. Think Agrarian Chic. The entrance is a long drive through the entire development—rows and rows of identical cottages and then you reach reception at the very top of the hill. It’s almost like landing in The Tru­man Show: Everything is picture-perfect and iden­tical, from the colors of the houses to the flowers to the cutesy faux street names. It’s easy to imagine getting lost in the maze of this paved environment, never able to find your room or the pool or the gym because everything looks exactly the same. Much rhetoric gets tossed around the property about its connection to the land, but truthfully, the experience here feels engineered, not organic. It’s ideal for the design hotel–hopping traveler. For anyone who’s not of this ilk, staying longer than a day or two will make you stir-crazy.

Carneros’s saving grace is its well thought-out spa. Director Jeannie Jarnot has a very clear vision: to deliver treatments that focus on the wine country themes of harvest, minerals, cellars, farms, and creeks. Her therapists are young, enthusiastic, and talented. While the primary focus is not vinotherapy, the few wine-based treatments offered use grapes from nearby Sebastapol.

The Grape Seed and Guava body scrub contains native grape seeds—to exfoliate dead skin cells—and red vine leaf extract (an antioxidant) to kick-start and speed up circulation. This scrub done in combination with the Chardonnay Grape Seed Oil massage—Carneros’s signa­ture vinotherapy treatment—makes for an ideal afternoon. Full of antiaging polyphenols, the lightweight body oil used in the massage is made from French Chardonnay. You’ll want to buy all the products afterward, and the selection at the spa boutique is mind-boggling. Jarnot has scoured the market for unique local, organic, and hard-to-find international beauty products and stocks the best selection, from True mineral makeup to Sumbody custom-blended goat’s butter to a spa line from cult brand Red Flower.

Jarnot’s choice of Red Flower products as the amenities for the rooms and spa is a nice fit with the philosophy of Red Flower’s founder, Yael Alkalay: to bring beauty and nature into the everyday experience. Jarnot and Alkalay worked together to develop a Carneros-brand wine blossom candle using the blossoms on vines. To develop their new Carneros fra­grance, they gave empty mason jars to all the families who live and work at the vineyard, asking each to put any substances in the jars that defined and captured the scents of the valley as they know it. The two collected more than a hundred jars—all love letters to the land. The ingredients ranged from dirt to honey to hay, and the Carneros scent, which debuts early this year, will be a blend of these local smells.

Kenwood Inn and Spa

Driving north from the Carneros Inn on the picturesque Sonoma Highway, you come upon the Kenwood Inn and Spa, a faded yellow stucco Mediterranean-style villa covered in flowering vines, lavender, and roses. The spa is located off an open courtyard with a fountain, old clay pots, and vine-covered staircases leading up to flower-boxed terraces. The place, with its old inn– or conventlike feel, has a wistful, faded beauty. An afternoon visit for authentic vinotherapy and a poolside lunch is the perfect way to experience it. Compared with the other spas, Kenwood offers the greatest selection of grape-based treatments—from wine-barrel baths to the Caudalie Grand facial—along with an exhaustive selection of Caudalie products.

The spa itself feels homey and personal, with seasoned therapists trained by Cauda­lie experts. As far as the treatments go, however, the Honey and Wine Wrap is a sticky, uncomfortable mess. After the concoction is spread over your body, you’re encased in plastic wrap and a heated blanket; it can get quite claustrophobic if you don’t know how to let go and relax. The mixture of the wine yeast and honey is supposed to nourish the skin and restore elasticity, plus help the immune system.

The Crushed Cabernet Scrub is not for the faint of heart. It involves being rubbed down with coarse sea salt and grape seeds that are bigger than a small caper and again being tightly bound in plastic wrap. When you shower afterward, you must literally scrape off the purple seeds. The result, however, is skin that never felt softer.

Caudalie treatments and products are packed with active ingredients that you can practically feel working. And while the spa itself is in need of an update, the treat­ments here channel the essence of Caudalie and are executed with authority.

Hotel Healdsburg

Leaving Kenwood Inn and heading up the 101 leads you to the town of Healds­burg in the Alexander Valley. According to locals the spectacularly lush, raw, and relatively undeveloped countryside of Alexander is what Napa looked like years ago. And arriving in town was love at first sight. Healdsburg is possibly the quaintest, most picturesque village anywhere. In front of the hotel is the town square with an old-fashioned candy store on the corner, where you can buy ice cream and all the treats of your childhood. Families, tourists, dogs, kids, and teenagers sit at the square’s fountain eating soft-serve cones.

The exterior of the hotel resembles an uninter­esting new apartment building constructed over the storefronts. But enter through the passageway hung with vines and inside you’ll find story-high ceilings, enormous comfy sofas in front of a blazing fireplace, and a palette of gray, green, and taupe tones that create a warm and tranquil space. The staff is friendly, the guests are hip, the staircases expansive, and the hallways wide with beau­tiful Tibetan carpets. The enormous rooms are done up with cozy featherbeds. It’s all very understated and tastefully done. If you didn’t know better, you’d think you were in Scandinavia.

The spa’s decor follows suit with stone floors and painted concrete walls. The treat­ment rooms are a lesson in design with sliding barn doors and wood floors. Together they make the usual cold spa atmosphere serene, stylish, and deluxe.

The surprise factor continues with the treatments. Therapists Ruth and Marjorie have worked here since the hotel opened seven years ago, mixing potions with bottles of Champagne and wines such as Chandon Blanc de Noirs and La Crema Russian River Valley Chardonnay. The spa has a more holis­tic approach than the others we visited, and the preparation for a treatment is a ritual in itself. All the products contain only fresh organic ingredients (even the wines) and every­thing is mixed straight from the refrigerator. Both therapists consider themselves healers, so the effects of a treatment go beyond the phys­ical, making one feel well from within. The treatments are enriching and transforming on every level, and of the spas we visited, the ones here connected best with the elements: nature, wine, body, land, and the restorative toxin-releasing effect of the grapes.

As we ended our tour, we asked once again: Is Napa the equivalent of Bordeaux? There were elements at all the Napa spas that would cause us to return. But to find the same European and scientific approach to vinotherapy treatments in the States is just not possible—it doesn’t exist here in the same way. What you will find, however, is small-town, all-American friendliness and enthusiasm. And the impression that you are tapping into an excit­ing new enterprise, as vinotherapy treat­ments and products are being developed with a more holistic and local approach. The spas may not have the same history of the grape, but northern California has taken its lead from France and created vinotherapy on its own terms.

Beyond Napa: Sipping and Spa-ing Around the World

Balgownie Estate Vineyard Resort & Spa, Yarra Glen, Australia

Located an hour outside Melbourne, this hotel’s Natskin Spa Retreat offers a Pinot Noir Geisha bath; other highlights are the rasul "steam temple" and Tasmanian milk baths. Rooms, $225–$400; treatments, $55–$580; 61-3/9730-0700; balgownieestate.com.au; natskin.com

Caudalie Vinotherapie Spa at Marques de Riscal, Rioja, Spain

Visitors to the world’s most famous wine spa, housed in the iconic pink-and-gold-titanium Frank Gehry complex, dunk in "oak barrels" with an exfoliating extract of crushed pulp, skin, seeds, and stalk, or try the Caudalie Grand facial with its signature "elixir," eau de beauté. Toast afterward from the hotel’s rooftop lounge, with 360-degree views of the hilly Rioja vineyards. Rooms, $515–$1,900; treatments, $20–$170; 34-945/180-880; caudalie.com

Caudalie Vinotherapie Spa at The Plaza, New York

The 8,000-square-foot day spa, due to open this spring, will have 14 treatment rooms, including one very private VIP suite. In addition to the standard Caudalie cures, certain treatments—such as fresh grape manicures and pedicures—have been developed exclusively for the Plaza location. It will also feature a wine lounge hosting tastings with vintners from around the globe. 212-265-3182; caudalie.com

Cavas Wine Lodge, Mendoza, Argentina

Set in Argentine wine country with views of the Andes, this spa offers a Malbec grape-seed scrub and a Bonarda wine bath. The accommodations, all private villas, are called Vignettes because they are in the middle of the vineyards. Rooms, $400–$825; treatments, $30–$150; 54-261/410-6927; cavaswinelodge.com

Delluva Vinotherapy Day Spa, New York

This year-old TriBeCa spa uses only TheraVine products from South Africa’s Stellenbosch, the region near Cape Town that produces some of the country’s best wine. Treatments, $60– $240; 866-933-5588; delluvaspa.com

Patios de Cafayate Hotel & Spa, Salta, Argentina

Situated in the Calchaquí Valley within a modern glass-and-stone-walled building, the spa overlooks the vineyards near the colonial-style hotel. Winespa products used in treatments here combine grapes—that are grown at high altitudes so they’ll have maximum polyphenolic concentration—with Andean quinoa, cactus juice, and goat’s milk. Treatments include grape-seed massages with Andean salt as well as a volcanic clay wrap, and grape purée applied with an acupressure massage. Rooms, $275–$450; treatments, $40–$105; 54-3868/421-747; starwoodhotels.com

Hotel Golf Peralada Wine Spa, Gerona, Spain

Fifteen minutes west of the Costa Brava, next to Peralada, a medieval village with a 14th-century castle and renowned golf course, this spa claims its pulverized vines, grape skins, wine lees, and Muscatel stimulate production of collagen. Therapists encourage use of a thermal circuit of therapeutic pools, steams, sauna, and hot marble slabs. Inhalation treatments, to cure respiratory ills, incorporate red wine and mint essence. Rooms, $420–$1,025; treatments, $40–$700; 34-972/538-830; golfperalada.com

The Vineyard at Stockcross, Berkshire, UK

While there’s no harvesting going on here, this wine-themed hotel offers its signature VinoTherapy facial with a grape must–lavender honey–jojoba exfoliating mask, followed by a massage using red grape serum, Sicilian grapefruit juice, and apricot juice, and an antiaging jelly mask made from Chardonnay grapes. Rooms, $710–$1,120; treatments, $30–$250; 44-1635/528-770; the-vineyard.co.uk

Vinotherapie Spa at Les Sources de Caudalie, Bordeaux, France

The original Caudalie spa, it opened in 1999 offering treatments with the first vinothérapie product line, created with grapes from the Château Smith-Haut-Lafitte estate. Rooms, $370–$950; treatments, from $475; 33-5/57-83-82-82; caudalie.com

Wine & Spa Resort Loisium Hotel, Langenlois, Austria

Austria’s premier wine spa, part of a multimillion-dollar complex funded in part by local vintners, is surrounded by vineyards with 900-year-old wine cellars. The 10,800-square-foot, three-level Aveda Wein Spa, lined with cool mint-green tile, is the center of the strikingly modern aluminum-clad, glass-walled hotel designed by Steven Holl. Spa-goers having the Wine Special—Salt Glow Sparkling exfoliation enjoy a glass of fizzy Grüner Veltliner. Rooms, $265– $410; treatments, $80–$160; 43-27/347-7100; loisiumhotel.at

Rose Reis

In the Valley

Auberge du Soleil

Rooms, $700–$4,250; treatments, $180–$655; 800-348-5406; aubergedusoleil.com

Calistoga Ranch

Rooms, $720–$3,850; treatments, $30–$440; 800-942-4220; calistogaranch.com

The Carneros Inn Y

Rooms, $505–$2,700; treatments, $60–$450; 707-299-4900; thecarnerosinn.com

Hotel Healdsburg

Rooms, $360–$820; treatments, $45–$220; 800-889-7188; hotelhealdsburg.com

Kenwood Inn and Spa

Rooms, $450–$800; treatments, $115–$240; 800-353-6966; kenwoodinn.com

Grape-based Products

Aqua Dessa

Wine Body bath oil and Wine Scrub. aquadessa.com

Bluewick

Vino Everyday soy candle from the Groove North Beach collection. bluewick.com

Caudalie

Beauty Elixir as well as the Sauvignon, Crushed Cabernet, and Merlot Friction scrubs in great glass mason jars. caudalie.com

Crush

Body Scrub by Jeanette O’Gallagher, who makes the Auberge du Soleil grape-seed products. napavalleyspaproducts.com

Davi

Includes a men’s line, such as Reserve shave cream and Coastal Vine aftershave. daviskin.com

Flora Napa Valley

Cielo eau de parfum made from grape leaves. olivinanapavalley.com

Olavie

Antioxidant body & massage oil and Antioxidant hand cream, both made from Chardonnay grape seeds. olavie.com