THE HILLS ARE FRAGRANT WITH EUCALYPTUS, the lavender-scented valleys planted with row after row of grapevines. It's little wonder visitors are drawn to California's Napa and Sonoma valleys. They come to eat well at beautiful bistros and sleep well in pleasant inns. But most of all, they come for the wine.
With one of the world's densest concentrations of wineries and a growing reputation for excellence, the valleys' vineyards draw wine lovers from everywhere. Visitors on the cutting edge are enjoying the wine in a new way: they're booking themselves into local spas for Merlot massages and Chardonnay wraps.
Only in California, some might sniff. But these newfound wine therapies have precedent: legend has it that French aristocrats journeyed from the court of Versailles to the vineyards of Champagne to bask in casks of pure Chardonnay, seeking its anti-aging effects. They might have been on the path to immortality-- if only the guillotine hadn't gotten in the way. In the past year, fruit acids have become the most touted ingredient in facial and body creams because of their anti-wrinkle effect. Grapes' tartaric acid is thought to combat wrinkles by increasing skin collagen. Wine enthusiasts eager to sample the latest harvest of treatments can take a tour.
HEALTH SPA NAPA VALLEY 1030 Main St., St. Helena; 707/967-8800. The mantra at this day spa is tranquillity: there's a fountain in each treatment room, along with canvas cabanas that open onto the spa's aromatherapy garden of lavender, rosemary, and sage. Among the relaxing array of wine treatments is a Grapeseed Mud Wrap that combines rich French clay with a powder of crushed grape seeds ($75/50 minutes). The Grapeseed Body Polish blends milled grape seeds with essential oils. And the spa store sells its own grape-seed-oil soaps shaped like Chardonnay-grape clusters and leaves. The entire place smells of red wine's high notes, and the spa encourages the association. Massage therapist Jeanette O'Gallagher says, "That's why we use purple linens instead of white."
KENWOOD INN & SPA 10400 Sonoma Hwy., Kenwood; 707/833-1293. This 12-suite Italian-style inn rests on a hillside above 2,000 acres of vineyards in the Valley of the Moon. A semicircle of ivy-covered yellow ocher villas looks onto a pool, slate patio, and fetching rose garden. Some of the spa treatments take place on a canopied rooftop terrace, where ceiling fans circulate the bouquet of the estate's eucalyptus, olive, and persimmon trees. Here grape-seed oil is mixed with lemon rind for an exfoliation scrub, which is followed by a rosemary-lavender sponge bath ($125/90 minutes). At night, Kenwood enhances in-room candlelight grape-seed-oil massages with champagne-- to drink, that is.
SONOMA MISSION INN & SPA Box 1447, Sonoma; 707/938-9000. This collection of grand peach-toned stucco buildings-- with turrets, bell towers, and Spanish tile roofs-- is reminiscent of California's last working mission, which still stands in downtown Sonoma. For more than 100 years the property has attracted those seeking rejuvenation in its therapeutic hot springs-- 135-degree mineral waters steeped with calcium, iron, magnesium, potassium, and zinc. The inn, surrounded by 10 acres of eucalyptus, has found a new way to relax and refresh its guests: treatments in the terra-cotta-tiled spa use the essential oils of grape seeds to reduce stress. The Bio-Energy Massage ($94/50 minutes) rubs guests with five different grape-seed-based aromatherapy oils. And that's not all-- to indulge guests' esoteric side, the staff is trained in dream analysis and tarot card readings.
MEADOWOOD 900 Meadowood Lane, St. Helena; 707/963-3646. One hundred shingled cottages with fresh white porches lie in a green valley, looking out onto 250 acres of oaks and pines and surrounded by some 100 wineries. Considerate details such as heated tiles on bathroom floors, down comforters, fireplaces, and spa treatments on the porch make this seem a revved-up version of a Vermont escape.
The resort takes its vinicultural lineage seriously: the main restaurant claims the most comprehensive listing of Napa Valley wines in the country, and there's even a college professor turned wine tutor on staff. Meadowood's spa was a pioneer in wine therapies when it opened five years ago with a Chardonnay massage ($80/50 minutes; $120/80 minutes): a Swedish massage with a lotion containing extracts of Chardonnay as well as grape-seed oil, chamomile, lavender, sweet almond oil, and orange oil. It smells like the Napa Valley in all its glory.
KATHLEEN BECKETT, who writes for the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times, has been a writer and editor at Glamour, Elle, and Vogue.
wine treatment news flash
Rosina Brown, who has run a skin-care clinic in Solano County, California, since 1985, is slated to open the 112-room, Tuscan-style Villagio Inn & Spa in nearby Yountville next month -- look for a fresco of Juventa, the goddess of eternal youth. A registered nurse in the United States, Germany, and her native Romania, Brown was inspired by watching her father slather himself with Black Sea mud to treat his psoriasis. Villagio will offer a mask of crushed champagne grapes, a restorative bath of grape seeds and leaves, a grape-sap compress for tired eyes, and poolside grape-seed-oil pedicures. True to her roots, she also plans intensive two-week programs for clients with eczema and psoriasis. VILLAGIO INN & SPA, 6541 Washington St., Yountville; 800/351-1133.
-- KATY MCCOLL