Grapeseeds and Vinotherapy


The Grape’s Hidden Treasure

by Nancy Oster

Photography by Erin Feinblatt

As I drive the winding roads through the back hills of Santa Barbara on a fall afternoon, I reach the crest of a small hill. An artist’s palette of colors—reds, oranges, golds, browns and greens—paints the landscape in front of me. One golden vineyard here, a crimson one over there, they appear like blocks of a quilt resting on the hills. Up closer, I see sun-lit clusters of ripe grapes hanging from the vines.

While it’s easy to recognize the potential for Santa Barbara grapes to produce delicious, award-winning wines, what many don’t realize is that the bark, leaves, grape skins and seeds of these beautiful vines are all valuable sources of nourishing protective antioxidants.

I’ve only recently learned about grapeseeds—the grape’s hidden treasure—from Kristin Fraser Cotte. In 2004 Kristin and her husband, Peter Cotte, started the Grapeseed Company, a beauty product business that uses local grapeseeds and grapeseed oil as a primary ingredient. Grapeseeds are a byproduct of winemaking and are often discarded or used as compost.

A Caribbean Adventure

Their story begins in 1999, when Kristin and Peter met in Boston. They both love the water, Kristin as a competitive swimmer and Peter as a sailor on his 30-foot sloop. And both enjoy diving and surfing. As they got to know each other better, they decided to take a break from their chosen career paths and sail the Caribbean together. Their journey was one part adventure and two parts education.

During those next two years they intentionally kept their carbon footprint small. Most of their food came from the ocean—fishing with lines or spears and diving for conch and lobster. They carried some dry goods and grew sprouts for their greens. Their 15-horsepower outboard motor was not large enough to charge batteries so they installed solar panels for energy.

Water was precious. Their 50-gallon tank sometimes had to last at least a week, so saltwater baths were frequent and rainwater collectors supplemented their water supply. A whole day on land might be spent filling jugs of water (one bucket at a time) from the town well to take back to the boat. They had no refrigeration. Trash was minimal but carried with them until it could be disposed of responsibly. They learned to live very simply.

The Dream of an Eco-Friendly Business

Kristin says, “Dreaming and imagining ‘what if’ occupied many hours at sea.” A frequent topic was what type of eco-friendly business they could start that would be creative and fun.

Kristin had taken along some books on aromatherapy and handcrafting soaps and lotions. Lemon Joy dishwashing detergent works well with salt water so it’s often a pantry staple for washing everything on the boat, but it was not her soap of choice for hair and skin. “There are over 500 islands in the Bahamas,” she says, “but not a lot of islands with stores selling shampoo or soap.” She did find some islanders making products with coconut oil and a Caribbean spice shop in the British Virgin Islands inspired further study and experimentation on the boat.

Her success using the oils and plants she picked up along the way fueled her passion for developing pure, simple skin care formulas that protected her skin from constant exposure to sun, salt and wind.

Then in 2002, on the island of Tortola, Peter asked Kristin to marry him, and they began to make plans for their move back to the mainland.

The Grapeseed Discovery

They each made a list of the top three places they’d like to live. Kristin says, “We wanted warm weather, good surf and a good graduate program for Peter.” After a short visit to the West Coast, Santa Barbara became their choice.

Kristin got a job at Hollister School as a resource specialist and Peter as a PE teacher in Goleta for the remaining part of the school year, and then Peter began his master’s degree work at UCSB. He also took a part-time job as a wine country bicycle tour guide. Meanwhile Kristin was still passionately whipping up scrubs, lotions and soaps in their kitchen and sharing them with appreciative friends.

While bicycling through vineyards on his wine tours, Peter noticed piles of discarded grapeseeds lying on the ground. He told Kristin about them. With a little research she discovered that grapeseeds are rich in antioxidants including resveratrol, a plant-derived polyphenol reputed to protect cell membranes and have anti-inflammatory properties. Antioxidants help prevent damage to healthy cells done by free radicals. Grapeseeds also contain vitamins A, C and E. The light oil pressed from grapeseeds absorbs easily and is used to moisturize and tone the skin.

She learned about vinotherapy spas in France that use grapeseed-based products in their treatments. Classic vinotherapy includes exfoliating grapeseed scrubs, grapeseed oil massages, grapeseed extract baths (sometimes in a wine barrel) and wraps made with honey and grapeseed oil.

The Grapeseed Company

Kristin used a coffee mill to grind up some grapeseeds in her kitchen. When she hand-mixed the seeds into a scrub, she realized that a skin care line using ground seeds and oil pressed from local grapeseeds was exactly the eco-friendly business that she and Peter had envisioned. So with $1,000, they launched the Grapeseed Company in 2004. Offering the first vinotherapy line in the United States, Kristin began selling her bath and body products at the Sunday Santa Barbara Arts & Craft Show on the beach and online through her website.

For the first five years she made the products in her home kitchen, moving a few times to places with larger kitchens. The business gradually expanded to take up two bedrooms, the garage and attic. Today she has two shops, one in Santa Barbara and a production facility and shop in Carpinteria.

At the Santa Barbara shop you can customize your own signature fragrance for many of her vinotherapy products. I created my own roll-on perfume at the Scent Bar, choosing from a collection of over 50 essential and fragrance oils. With the help of sales manager Rachel Nobles I settled on equal parts clary sage and tangerine essential oils. My friend Lucy Thomas custom blended three essential oils—two parts lemongrass to one part each clary sage and litsea for her body lotion.

The shop’s shelves are stocked with Kristin’s bath and body products featuring her seven classic and five vineyard fragrances. She also has baby products, belly balm for pregnant moms and men’s shaving products. Surf, her Labrador, inspired a line of Dirty Dog Organics to keep his coat soft and fresh-smelling. Surf visited the shop while I was there, easily convincing me that Carob, my chocolate Lab, would benefit from their aloe and lavender–based shampoo.

The Carpinteria location is a production warehouse, with a small shop at the front. If you peek through the door from the shop, you’ll see KitchenAid mixers on the counter and the long table where staff members like Bree Wright work alongside Kristin to mix up bath salts, pour soy candles, make vineyard soaps, grind grapeseeds and package up online orders for shipping.

Kristin says her shop sales staff learn about the products by helping to make them. This engages them, encourages them to feel like they are a part of the growing company and gives them a hands-on way of becoming more knowledgeable about the products.

Kristin’s fragrances are light, refreshing and uplifting. Standing over a batch of Surf Foot Scrub or Sunshine Day Bath Salts as it mixes is a special treat. However, staff member Katie Prakash warns me that it’s best to avoid mixing the Lemon Cake scented items when you are hungry.

Managing Growth and Keeping It Local

The company has grown at a frenetic pace this year. Online and walk-in sales have increased. One product Kristin made the day I visited was wrap mixture for a vinotherapy spa, sold under their private label. She says, “Our wholesale distribution to spas is growing rapidly.” TJX Group has contracted six products to sell in their TJ Maxx, Marshalls, Home Sense and Winners stores in the U.S. and Canada. Receiving industry recognition for her unique business model, Kristin was invited last April to speak in Barcelona at In-Cosmetics, the largest cosmetics ingredients conference in the world. She spoke about growing businesses that focus on a local ingredient. And this year the Grapeseed Company will have a table at the Oscars.

This is all good, but as volume increases Kristin is looking at ways to keep the production and ingredients such as the grapeseeds, honey and herbs local. She points out that grapeseeds are a seasonal crop and she has to anticipate her needs for the whole year. Last year she used 50 pounds of seeds for scrubs, masks, and soaps and 500 gallons of grapeseed oil. As the company grows, cash flow needs become greater. They have never taken a loan. They’ve grown through reinvestment and a lot of hard work.

Kristin says that creating new products and handcrafting small batches with her workers is what she enjoys the most. She defines success by the quality of her products and eco-friendliness of her business model, not the volume of sales.

Even as her company expands to include national and international sales, Kristin plans to maintain the local roots of production and administration. “I will continue to make smaller batches in-house by hiring more people from the community to help,” she says. Keeping her footprint local and making use of local resources that might otherwise be overlooked or underused, that’s what it’s all about.

Since making her first batch of real soap, Nancy Oster has developed a strong appreciation for body products made from simple, pure, skin-nourishing ingredients. She is grateful to Kristin Fraser Cotte for making products with ingredients that are good for the body inside and out.


Not surprisingly, Kristin Fraser Cotte loves to cook. We agree that making body products is like cooking without the calories. Not only is Kristin creative but she is generous as well. She shares the following recipes for you to make up in your own kitchen using fresh local ingredients.

Honey Brown Sugar Lip Scrub

  • 1 tablespoon organic brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon grapeseed oil
  • 1 teaspoon local honey
  • 14 teaspoon of aloe vera gel
  • A few drops of baking flavoring, if you desire
  • (vanilla, peppermint, orange or almond extract)

Mix ingredients together in a small bowl with a spoon and scoop into a small container for future use.

Apply to your lips with fingertips or a soft toothbrush with gentle, circular motions, then rinse.

Luscious Lavender Almond Honey Facial

  • 112 tablespoons almond meal
  • 1 teaspoon lavender buds
  • 1 teaspoon honey (such as a local avocado blossom honey)
  • 112 to 2 teaspoons grapeseed oil
  • 5 to 10 drops of lavender essential oil

Mill lavender buds in a coffee grinder or herb mill and mix in almond flour. Add honey, oil and essential oil and mix thoroughly. Add a bit more grapeseed oil to thin the mask if needed. Drape a washcloth soaked in hot water on your face for 1 minute. Remove and apply mixture evenly, like a mask.

Relax for 10 to 15 minutes. Gently massage into your skin in upward, circular motions over your entire face for 1 to 2 minutes. Rinse thoroughly.

Chocolate Scrub

  • 1 cup organic brown sugar
  • 14 cup grapeseed oil
  • 14 cup plain or vanilla organic yogurt
  • 1 tablespoon organic cocoa powder
  • 15 drops vanilla essential oil

Mix brown sugar and cocoa powder in a small bowl with a spatula, then add yogurt, oil and vanilla oil and blend until smooth. Massage your warm, damp skin from the feet up with gentle, upward circular motions, then rinse. Any remaining scrub can be saved in an airtight container in the fridge for up to a week.

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Categories Spring 2013