Winemaking is an art form.
From the cultivation of the vines, the languid maceration of the grapes; right to the moment the fragrant liquid is siphoned into oak barrels to ferment. Understanding winemaking is as much scientific precision as it is a unique way of life. A lived experience of passion, texture, smell and even intuition play a role in this historic métier. It’s involved. A process that leaves its stain on a person and has a way of colouring the way we see the world. It’s perhaps this that sealed the fate of Mathilde Thomas, founder of clean skincare brand Caudalie.
Born in Grenoble – the picturesque capital of the French Alps – her parents were ski champions on France’s own national team. But it was her summers in the South, away from the snow, that held the sensory allure that would eventually inspire Caudalie.
“My fondest childhood memories are linked to fragrances and smell when I was eight. I used to spend my summer holidays with my grandparents in Haute Provence. My granddad was an outdoor person and would bring me on long walks during which he would make me smell all sorts of aromatic plants – thyme, rosemary but also fresh almonds, figs, vine peach,” shares Thomas.
“I didn’t know what part of beauty I wanted to pursue professionally, but I knew from a young age I had a passion for fragrance, texture and natural skincare.”
In the heart of Bordeaux, Thomas’ parents own a cherished vineyard called Château Smith Haut Lafitte. When she was 22, she experienced a moment of serendipity during one of her visits to the vines. It was 1993 and she had ventured to the vineyard with her boyfriend (now husband) Betrand. By chance or by fate, they connected with Professor Joseph Vercauteren in a moment that would change everything.
From left: CAUDALIE Beauty Elixir; CAUDALIE Vinoperfect Glycolic Peel Mask.
“I met Professor Vercauteren during the 1993 grape harvest. He was researching grapes and the vines leftover,” she says.
“He said to me “Do you know that you are throwing away treasures?” – meaning the grape seeds that are discarded after the grapes are pressed for wine. I didn’t even know what a polyphenol was, or that this simple concept would lead to my life’s calling: an all-natural beauty revolution based on the luscious purple fruits hanging from the vines that surrounded.”
It just so happens that the humble grape Thomas’ family had been pressing and bottling had a secret. Grapes, their seeds and the vines contain some of the most powerful antioxidants and anti-ageing compounds found on this Earth: polyphenols, resveratrol, viniferine, vitamins and trace elements. The seeds and stems that were thrown away as a by-product of winemaking held one of Mother Nature’s true miracles.
Inspired by the alchemy of turning fruit to wine, Thomas took the unit of measurement used in oenology ¬– the study of wine – as the name for her brand.
“A short two years after our discovery, Caudalie was born.”
Just as winemaking is more than simply harvesting grapes and coaxing out the liquids, turning the winemakers’ cast-offs into skincare is also a process of precision and complexity. Not all wine refuse can be transformed into skincare. As Thomas tells it, the chemistry is different; requiring a layered knowledge of both vocations – winemaking and skincare – to formulate Caudalie.
From Left: CAUDALIE Vinosource-Hydra Grape Water Gel Moisturiser; CAUDALIE Grape Water.
“We only use grape seeds from white wine to extract polyphenols. Because of the winemaking process, a white grape is pressed and discarded immediately, so the antioxidants will stay in the seeds and skin. Whereas the red macerates weeks in a vat and gives all its antioxidant polyphenols and resveratrol to the red wine.”
In the 1990s, when Caudalie was conceived, creating skincare from ingredients meant for taste was not the norm. ‘Clean’ or ‘natural’ were not ideas that had made their way into the wellness zeitgeist. But Thomas had always been influenced and energised by what nature could offer. Hearing stories of the power of plants kept her inspired.
“Growing up, my grandmother taught me recipes with natural ingredients and at an early age taught me the importance of antioxidant-rich skincare.”
“Women would rub the vine sap on their face to erase freckles. We said that when the vine was crying, the woman’s face was smiling. Extracted from the vine sap is viniferine, which is now the main active ingredient in our bestseller Vinoperfect Radiance Serum.”
Of course, designing a skincare revolution on the back of a horticultural empire is about more than just revitalising refuse. For Thomas and her co-founder husband Betrand, the experience is conscientious.
“My husband Bertrand and I believed that we needed to act to leave a better planet for our kids.”
“We created Caudalie to be the most effective of the natural clean skincare products and the most sustainable of the beauty brands. So, we do everything we can to honour this mission, we go above and beyond to avoid all the nasty ingredients that are not safe, irritating, non-biodegradable and harmful to the environment, and we produce and present our products in the most eco-conscious and sustainable way.”