Sowing the seed

Winegrapes offer more than just a tasty tipple with your meal, says Jill Starley-GraingerFancy a magnum of Merlot? How about a bathful of Burgundy? Wealthy ancient Romans would have recommended it. They thought wallowing in wine was good for the body. Today’s skin therapists agree that bathing in Cabernet can make skin look great, but they don’t suggest pouring litres of it in your bath as the Romans did. Not only is this a waste of a tasty tipple, but the alcohol will dry out your skin. Instead, you need to get to the heart of the wine-grape - its seeds.Cosmetic companies have tried for decades to harvest the beauty benefits of wine-grapes. Their tiny seeds contain especially powerful polyphenols, useful for fighting free radicals (skin-damaging molecules), but until recently, attempts to use grapeseed polyphenols in cosmetic preparations failed. They were unstable, quickly turning skin creams red and vinegary. That all changed in 1993 when Professor Joseph Vercauteren from Bordeaux University of Pharmacy discovered a fatty acid that stabilised the polyphenols.On a wine tasting at a Bordeaux chateau, the professor casually mentioned his discovery to the chateau owner’s daughter, Mathilde, who was showing him around. Looking at the mountain of grapeseeds binned at the end of harvest, she put two and two together, and hey, presto. The first wine-based skin-care company, Caudalie, was born.The professor sold the patent to Caudalie, and a skin cream was developed. In a test by an independent laboratory (approved by the French Ministry of Health), Caudalie’s cream reduced free radicals by 85 per cent. A huge international cosmetics company was advertising an expensive cream for its ability to fight free radicals, but it was reducing them by just 11 per cent. Caudalie and Professor Vercauteren have since developed more impressive patented ingredients, including a brilliant vine-based cream for removing brown patches on skin.Caudalie’s products hit the market in 1995, but Vinotherapie, a trademarked term meaning wine-based skincare, really took off in 1999 when Caudalie opened its first spa. Set in the grounds of Mathilde’s family chateau just outside Bordeaux city, the spa was an instant success, receiving international acclaim and an abundance of A-list attendees.Guests of the Vinotherapie spa (+33,, treatments from 50 euros) often stay next door at the four-star Les Sources de Caudalie hotel (+33,, from 185 euros for a double room). It offers five styles of individually decorated rooms, from the charmingly rustic La Maison Du Lievre (Hare’s House) to the romantic Ile Aux Oiseaux (Bird Island), which sits over a lake. Wine fans might want to opt for one of the beautiful wine-themed suites in the main building. Meals are taken at one of the hotel’s two highly acclaimed restaurants, which offer gourmet meals, including set 500-calorie meals for those watching their weight.Kylie, Catherine Deneueve and Eva Longoria are fans of Caudalie, but guests needn’t worry about measuring up to stick-thin Hollywood types. Local devotees mingle with savvy European and American clients to create a low-key, welcoming atmosphere. Because the attached hotel offers gastronomic food, fine wine, cigar tasting and outdoors activities, the spa is almost as popular with men as it is with women, making it a top choice for couples of all ages.While waiting for treatments, take a dip in the central area’s small thermal pool, which bubbles with healing waters from an underground spring. Behind the pool, steam pours out of a hammam, and guests recline in the surrounding indoor and outdoor relaxation areas. Cups of the spa’s delicious red vine tea and chilled grapes are on offer to keep guests hydrated during the day.Treatments use only Caudalie’s own patented products, which are ethically produced, with no animal testing or nasty parabens, and, where possible, organic and fairly traded. Multi-day packages are available to rejuvenate, relax or slim, including a get-back-in-shape break for new mothers. From the a la carte menu, the facials are highly recommended. Try the Vinoperfect facial (90 euros, 50 minutes). The vinotherapist creates a personalised concoction for you, leaving your skin soothed, smoothed and glowing. Fans of whirlpools will enjoy the famous wine barrel bath (51 euros, 15 minutes). For baby-bottom soft skin, get slathered in whole grapeseeds, honey, brown sugar and Contouring Concentrate with the Crushed Cabernet body scrub (68 euros, 35 minutes).Caudalie’s success has led to wine-based skincare being one of the hottest trends in the industry right now. In France, Caudalie has another spa in Paris, a day spa at the luxurious Hotel Le Meurice in Paris ( It has also added several more destination spas in wine-growing regions around the world, including Piedmont, Italy (Relais San Maurizio, +,, from 320 euros for a double room), Bilbao, Spain (+34,, from 300 euros for a double room) and Sonoma Valley, California (+1,, from $350 for a double room). Other wine spas have started appearing in France, too, such as Chateau Vent d’Autan (+33, in The Lot.Apart from Caudalie’s Vinotherapie spas, a few other wine spas are definitely worth a special trip. Bear in mind that, because Caudalie’s key ingredients are patented, the other spas use different wine-based ingredients in their treatments.Outside Cape Town, South Africa, lies Sante Winelands Hotel and Wellness Centre (+27,, from 2,230 South African Rand for a double room). Opened in 2003, it has received numerous accolades, including being ranked as Conde Nast Travellers’ third best spa in the world in 2006. Treatments are based on either wine-grapes or water, and the Chardonnay Cocoon Wrap is a must. Another great wine spa is Patios de Cafayate Hotel and Spa (+54,, from $250US for a double room) in northern Argentina, which opened in 2005. Set in a colonial mansion in the mountains, it offers dramatic views over the surrounding vineyards. Treatments combine wine-grapes with locally grown quinoa, carob cactus and molle, for a gourmet pampering experience.