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Infinite Enophile: Dear good grapes, how do we love thee? Let us count the ways.

Grape Skin

Using grape seeds to recapture youth

By Charyn Pfeuffer

'I just don't get it." As we made our way to the Kenwood Inn & Spa, Morgan exclaimed in pure disbelief that people pay good money to be exfoliated. "Skin naturally exfoliates itself--I'm exfoliating right this very minute!" he cried. A heated discussion ensued on the subject of beauty, free radicals and antiaging.

Most people in the beauty know have identified that certain environmental factors such as cigarette smoke, pollution, alcohol and sunlight contain destructive oxygen molecules. These nasty molecules are called free radicals, and they wreak havoc on our skin, tiring it out and aging it prematurely. Many scientists and skin-care experts believe the best way to combat these free radicals is by using antioxidants. As modern medicine learns more about fermentation and the internal benefits of wine, the potent power of grapes as an antioxidant in external antiaging and therapeutic spa treatments is gaining worldwide devotees, especially here on the home front at the Caudalie Vinotherapie Spa at the Kenwood Inn.

Grapes contain antioxidants, polyphenols and resveratrol. Scientific research has shown that the active component of polyphenols--proanthocyanidin (PCO)--is particularly concentrated in grape skins and grape seeds. It was the cutting-edge researcher, professor Joseph Vercauteren of the department of pharmacology at University of Bordeaux, a center of research on wine and health, who helped establish that PCOs are highly effective in countering free radicals. But it has only been over the last two decades that serious attention has been focused on the role of PCOs as a beauty treatment.

During a 1993 visit to Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte, a Bordeaux vineyard, Vercauteren met with property owners Mathilde Cathiard-Thomas and her husband, Bertrand Thomas. He mentioned to the winemakers that once stabilized, the grape seeds discarded at the end of the harvest contained powerful antiaging properties and were a valuable source of PCOs.

Only grape seeds from the winemaking process of white wine are used for the extraction of polyphenols (with red wine, the seeds macerate in vats, where they release their polyphenols, becoming unusable). The grape-seed skins hold the majority of polyphenols, and it takes over a ton of grape seeds to extract one kilo of polyphenols. Vercauteren's disclosure paved the way to a new approach fighting free radicals, and therefore aging.

With the experience of winemaking behind the Thomas' and a research agreement with the Pharmacy Faculty of Bordeaux for a patented, stabilized grape seed polyphenol, the beauty line Caudalie and the term "vinotherapie" were born. The Thomas' extensive skin- and body-care products quickly became a cult favorite, appearing on the shelves of Barney's, Sephora and Neiman Marcus in the United States. A few years later, they debuted the world's first dedicated "wine spa," Les Sources de Caudalie, at their Burgundy chateau.

The Caudalie Vinotherapie Spa at the Kenwood Inn, one of only three Caudalie spas worldwide (the third is in Italy), harnesses the healing properties of grapes in such vinotherapie services as the barrel bath, the Merlot wrap, the crushed Cabernet scrub and the Sauvignon massage. After settling into the luxurious Mediterranean-style setting of the 30-room inn, I indulged myself with three treatments to see for myself: the Caudalie grand facial (80 minutes, $165); a barrel bath (30 minutes, $65); and a brushed Cabernet scrub (50 minutes, $115). Unlike many products, these didn't overindulge my olfactory senses. I've subjected my skin to countless spas and treatments around the country, and this was truly an outstanding all-around spa experience.

Later that night at the inn's wine bar, Morgan continued to debate the science behind beauty products and asked if it wasn't enough to get treatments because they feel good, plain and simple. I agreed that that was indeed part of the equation, but as I sat there scrubbed and all aglow, I swear that a few years were shaved off my age that afternoon. I felt like an updated version of myself and that there truly is something to be learned from the European-inspired enophile lifestyle celebrating the powerful properties of one of our region's finest commodities--the grape.


Caudalie Vinotherapie Spa at the Kenwood Inn, 10400 Sonoma Hwy., Kenwood. 707.833.1293.

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From the May 4-10, 2005 issue of the North Bay Bohemian.

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