Ontario spa soaks visitors in wine

NIAGARA-ON-THE-LAKE, Ontario (Reuters) — Every year about 4 million people descend on this quaint, 19th century town at the mouth of the Niagara River to see plays at the Shaw Festival and sample the region’s award-winning wines.

But now visitors to Niagara-on-the-Lake, a town of 15,000 a short drive from Toronto and Buffalo, can not only savor the local wine but also have it poured generously over their bodies.

A local spa has developed a technique incorporating the region’s most famous product into a therapy that might raise even a teetotaler’s spirits.

About 25 visitors a week request the White Oaks Spa’s signature treatment, the “Nectar of Niagara Scrub and Massage,” which costs $55 for 55 minutes or $70 for 85 minutes. Spa director Sheila Spear finds this number of patrons remarkable since body treatments are not as popular as aesthetic treatments such as manicures and facials.

Some 25,000 people have visited the spa since the start of the year, about 42 percent from outside of Canada, mainly the United States.

Spear, who sits on the board of directors at Spa Ontario, which sets industry standards, knows of no other spa that offers the service. But she expects the popularity of wine therapy will grow.

“The spa-goer today is more educated and traveled and they want to experiment with new things,” she explained.

All the senses

The Nectar of Niagara is meant to cater to all the senses.

After entering the dimly lit spa and changing into a bathrobe, the spa-goer is greeted by an aesthetician and led to a candle-lit room with a bed.

After undressing — patrons are offered the option of wearing disposable underwear or remaining naked — a mixture of clay and wine residue is rubbed onto the skin to exfoliate the dead, top layers.

Afterward, a sweet-smelling mixture of wine and honey is poured on the body. The sticky concoction is massaged into the skin before the client is wrapped in plastic and a heated blanket for several minutes so that the mixture can penetrate deeper.

Finally, it is washed off in a hydrotherapy bath.

The experience is so relaxing, clients can lose track of time lolling in the spa’s relaxation rooms, as this reporter did when enjoying the therapy. Although the sweet scent of grapes and honey washed away quickly, the treatment left my skin extraordinarily silky for days.

Spear, who has been in the spa industry for more than 20 years, developed an interest in vintherapy in the late 1980s.

While running her own spa, she used to offer red wine peels as part of facials but stopped the service after some clients reacted poorly to the treatment.

Another reason Spear stopped using wine in therapy was a lack of sources. She only knew of one winery in California willing to supply a wine product suitable for the body.

After moving to Niagara-on-the-Lake, the heart of Ontario’s wine country, she decided to reconsider the idea.

“I wanted to use products that were right at my doorstep,” said Spear.

Clarifying process

Spear approached wineries in hopes of making a product that assisted in exfoliation of the skin. Crushed grape seeds were too abrasive while grapes with the skin on were too slippery.

At one winery, Hernder Estates, Spear noticed a mixture in a jar and found out it was the by-product of the clarifying process — a mixture of wine residue and refined white clay from North Carolina used to extract sediment from the wine.

That combination suited the spa treatment perfectly.

The process of clarifying wine occurs only once a year, so Spear must estimate the demand for her spa treatments a year in advance. This year, she froze several hundred individual portions of the wine-clay mixture.

It has been two years since the spa began offering wine treatments and word of mouth has spread. Spear said she constantly receives calls from other spas interested in offering the treatment and it has only been a few months since she started sharing her secret.

“I wanted to have at least a year before other people started,” she explained.

For those not satisfied with wine, White Oaks offers other quintessentially Canadian treatments — including a brown sugar and maple syrup wrap.

“Maple syrup and sap are like nature’s cortisone,” said Spear. “It’s very anti-inflammatory and the sugars in it are extremely nourishing to the skin.”

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