Once Upon A Vine: A Unique Gathering of Grapes

by Fyllis Hockman

Relais San MaurizioAlright, we all know by now that drinking red wine is supposed to be heart-healthy. So then, shouldn’t slathering a glass of Merlot on your body be good for the skin? Such is the theory, sort of, at the Caudalie Spas. There are currently only four in the world, and I am luxuriating in a ‘vinotherapie’ massage in the Relais San Maurizio Hotel in the heart of the Piedmont region of northwestern Italy. The vintage is being absorbed into the skin rather than ingested into the bloodstream.

As is also true in Bordeaux, France, Rioja, Spain and New York City (Hmmm; don’t exactly think of the latter as a major wine-producing area…), here wine is king! And the appreciation of its many attributes – which, as those who know me can attest, I try to experience as often as I can – is a venerated practice. So it seems appropriate that the consumption of wine extend beyond traditional imbibing.

Jets of water are swinging across my body – I feel like I’m being irrigated - while Simonatta, wearing a head-to-foot plastic apron (not your usual masseuse attire) is rubbing me down with an oil extract made from the seeds, skin, stalk and pulp of the grape. I refrained from asking if the oils needed to breathe before reaching their full essence, or whether it was a Pinot Noir, Sauvignon or Cabernet blend.

Caudalie Vinotherapie SpaOkay, I can hear you laughing, but it’s true. That’s how they identify the massages. There’s even one where you lie in a wine barrel and ferment – no, I made that up –but the Barrel Bath promises “a mild exfoliating effect” with grape extracts “selected for their draining and relaxing properties.”

There are lots of different options: a Red Vine Bath, Honey and Wine Wrap, Crushed Cabernet Scrub, Bordeaux Stone Therapy, Pulp Friction Massage.

Speaking of movies…apparently I’m in good company. Catherine Zeta-Jones, Bruce Willis, Julia Roberts, Madonna and JLo all have vegged out in vino over the past couple of years. Wait until AA hears about it – they’ll have to start whole new chapters with a 12-step program that involves avoiding spas.

So here’s the theory behind all this: It began in 1993, when a professor at the Bordeaux University of Pharmacology started promoting the anti-aging benefits of those parts of the grapes that are usually discarded. He was probably drunk at the time…

Personally, I think his claims are a little grandiose. The promotional materials boast that these little wine-bearing grape guys “contain polyphenols which, once stabilized, have priceless benefits for the skin, as their incredible capacity to trap free radicals is unequaled in the plant world.” Sounds too much like a break-through miracle cure: Moisturize, don’t metastasize.

The recommended therapy? Put a shot-glass-sized portion of the wine oil mixture into a bath or massage treatment, apparently enough to exfoliate, cleanse, moisturize, increase circulation and reduce stress. Hardly seems enough for the body to get high on.

Okay – so I wasn’t all that impressed. Maybe I should have opted for the Cabernet Scrub rather than the jet-stream massage. As the jets of water swept side to side during the final rinse, I felt like a well-washed piece of fruit.

Suffice it to say, when I passed a well-stocked wine cellar enroute back to my room, I couldn’t help but think I’d much rather be drinking wine than bathing in it.


Fyllis Hockman is an award-winning travel journalist who has been traveling and writing for over 25 years -- and is still as eager for the next trip as she was for the first. Her articles appear in newspapers across the country and websites across the internet. A sampling of those stories can be found by visiting seniorsoftheworld.com and clicking on The Travel Adventures of Fyllis and Vic.




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