A SoCal spa perfects the art of wining, dining and unwinding, the French way.
It’s a dramatic and lovely setting, one that’s not unusual in a place like Sonoma: Surrounded by acres of Merlot grapevines planted in orderly rows, beneath a string of cafe lights, two long tables draped in burlap are lit with glowing candles and set with dozens of wine glasses for an alfresco evening tasting—the distant yaps and howls of a pack of coyotes audible in the background.
The thing is, this isn’t Northern California Wine Country. It’s Vista, just north of San Diego. The vintages are from Château Margaux, the esteemed vineyard in Bordeaux, France. And many of the attendees are keeping the chill at bay by wearing white terry-cloth robes.
“This is Cal-a-Vie,” says John Havens, who, with his wife Terri Havens, has owned the 440-acre property—site of a 32-room destination spa, the Havens family vacation home and a newly renovated golf course—for 15 years. “Wearing robes to dinner is what we do here.”
Cal-a-Vie is known for adding a layer of Gallic-inflected luxury to the California spa formula of low-calorie meals, hiking, exercise classes and massages. It’s evident in the design. Antiques fill every room: A museum-quality tapestry commissioned by Louis XIV hangs on the wall of the fitness pavilion; and a 400-year-old chapel imported from Dijon was rebuilt on a hillside with sweeping views of the spa and the surrounding hills, planted with 12 acres of the aforementioned vines. The Havenses, who spend most of their time in Houston but are originally from New Orleans, are devoted Francophiles who fill containers with salvaged flooring and objets during their visits abroad.
They are also gracious hosts, and take their guests’ requests seriously. “We always look at the comment cards,” Terri shares with those assembled for tonight’s tasting, a group of 45 that is currently feasting on diminutive but satisfying portions of roasted salmon and beef tenderloin with organic vegetables grown on site, after listening to a demonstration by Aurélien Valance (a Margaux representative who flew in for the occasion, with cases of rare wines equipped with alarms on their corks to prohibit tampering). “Time and again, we would see the word ‘wine’ written on [the cards],” she laughs. “And so we listened.”
As a result, the spa is now hosting semiannual wine events, which involve all of the typical health-conscious spa behavior, just with the extra motivation of a small pour of Bordeaux at the end of a long day of workouts, from the spa’s own fledgling Cal-a-Vie grapes (with reds blended with help from Ira Gourvitz at the nearby Fallbrook Winery) or participating wineries from around the world.
Tonight’s toast? “To good health,” of course—which, from the looks of it, includes happiness, too. Packages for a “petite” three-night stay start at about $4,000, seven nights from $8,500; cal-a-vie.com.
By Christine Lennon.
PHOTOS: Courtesy of Cal-a-Vie Health Spa.