Among the rows of alien Yucca Palms and Mojave cacti near Joshua Tree National Park lies a hand-built compound, about 3 hours from the Pacific. This dry and arid landscape is home to Wonder Valley, a truly wondrous place to be. Like something out of a story book, Wonder Valley is a home, an artist’s retreat, an illustrious brand, and an enchanting vision created by Alison and Jay Carroll. We first fell in love with the Wonder Valley name after emptying a bottle of their coveted Olive Oil from Cap Beauty.
Why did we pick up olive oil at the beauty store? Because this olive oil is a true beauty food. The sales woman recommended taking it by the spoonful each morning to make our hair shine and skin glow. Music to our ears! The color of the oil is so green, and the undertones of flavor are so rich, it’s easy to feel the difference between Wonder Valley Olive Oil, and a conventional brand. Turns out, the key is picking the olives early so they are super high in polyphenols, a kind of antioxidant, which are what make it a beauty product you don’t want to skip.
After falling in love with the oil, we fell in love with the brand, the face oil and the thoughtfully crafted home goods. Now, we fall in love with the people behind the brand and get a glimpse into their nostalgia-inducing lifestyle. Read below to hear how you can incorporate their best tips for slow-living and distilling life into its best parts:
The Moment: Hi there! Thanks for chatting with us. Can you tell us about how the brand started and who you are?
We are Alison and Jay Carroll, a husband and wife living in the high desert of Joshua Tree, California. Wonder Valley started with our California extra virgin olive oil, after my (Alison’s) time as the marketing director for the California Olive Oil Council. From there, we’ve built a supporting collection of health and home-goods rooted in the idea of ‘Grandeur in Simplified Living’.
The Moment: On your site, you talk about accomplishing this new lifestyle. What old habits were you trying to get away from and what new outlook were you looking to gain with this new way of life? How has olive oil played in to that search?
Moving to a rural place like Joshua Tree was the catalyst for a lot of great personal changes and growth for Wonder Valley. It gave us the space, both physically and mentally, to work and the silence to really get into our heads and push boundaries. It’s nothing radical or a new way of life really, it was just about celebrating a simpler life and stripping back excess. For us, that meant getting rid of most of our possessions and for the remaining objects we live with to really add beauty and value to our daily lives. The olive oil started it all – it’s universal, it’s elemental, it elevates dishes and supports a healthy lifestyle. It could be used both culinary and as a nourishing beauty product.
That year we lived in a 1951 vagabond trailer we rehabbed and parked next to our house, a great exercise in living with less stuff in a small space.
The Moment: You have this incredible compound to house Wonder Valley, can you tell us more about that? What drew you to Joshua Tree/ the dessert?
We were living in LA at the time and house hunting for a weekend spot in Joshua Tree. We’ve been coming here for years, it’s where we got married too. After 2 years of hunting, we found our house and just decided to go all in and make this our full-time residence. It took about a year to renovate by hand, which was such an incredible year! We’re on the second phase now of building the furniture for the space. During that year we lived in a 1951 vagabond trailer we rehabbed and parked next to our house, a great exercise in living with less stuff in a small space. Our house butts up to the boulders of the national park so every day we get to take an incredible walk down the end of the street, it’s a good life here!
The Moment: What does your morning ritual look like?
Wake up and invite Lefty, our dog into bed for a morning snuggle. We will go for a walk or a run and take time to meditate. In the fall/spring I like to get up early and work in the yard on the garden, something about getting your hands dirty first thing in the morning feels good. Then we meet at the table with breakfast and coffee and go over the day’s tasks which is a mix of Wonder Valley products (shop, development, shipping, etc) and the studio, our client-based design division of Wonder Valley working on branding and interiors.
The Moment: Who or what have been your biggest inspirations along the way?
Scott & Helen Nearing of “The Good Life” (book), a couple who forged a new path during the Great Depression and moved to a rural place creating a self-sustaining life rooted in health and creative growth. Christophe Alexander’s “Timeless Way of Building” for house design. Our friends Gabrielle Gamarello & Beau Buck, an artist couple who took on a major renovation of their home/storefront in Marfa just the two of them. They are an inspiration as a couple who lives and works together and the art and products they create are incredible. And visiting Japan is such a jolt of inspiration, we try to visit as often as possible.
By picking our fruit early, it gives the oil that bright green herbaceous flavor and a higher concentration of polyphenols, the antioxidants that make olive oil so healthy.
The Moment: The oil isn’t only delicious, but it’s so beautiful! What makes it so green?
The fruit is picked while slightly underripe. It’s like a banana – when you eat a banana when it’s slightly green, it’s going to be tannic and have more intensity. If you wait until it’s fully ripe or black, it’s going to be very sweet and a bit flat. By picking our fruit on the early side, it gives the oil that bright green herbaceous flavor and a bit of a kick to it, it also gives it a longer shelf life and has a higher concentration of polyphenols, the antioxidants that make olive oil so healthy.
The Moment: Where do you source your olives? What does the processing look like?
The olives hail from Tehama County, northern California. They are picked by hand and milled within hours of harvest. The mills in California are modern hammer mills; the fruit gets pulverized by a row of razor blades, churned at a gentle heat to extract the liquid from the pulp, spun on a centrifuge to separate the water from the oil, and finally filtered to give it a clean taste and extend the shelf life.
The Moment: The taste of Wonder Valley is so incredible, unlike anything you can get at a regular grocery store. What makes it so spectacular?
In part, it’s harvesting the fruit earlier to give it that greener taste. The other half is the varietals of olives used. We have Ascolano, which is a huge Italian varietal typically used for table olives that only a handful of us are pressing for oil. It has an incredible flavor profile of stone fruit like apricots and pine needles. Taggiasca and Manzanillo are bright and have an herbaceous bitterness that gives it a kick. Arbequina is the buttery, soft oil that balances it.
The Moment: You just opened a flagship store! How was the opening? How is this new experience of selling your products face-to-face?
We’ve loved having this part-time flagship store to interact with customers and putting together the space is so helpful, it can be a challenge to design purely for an online space. It’s pretty wild for both us and the customer meeting in the vast landscape of Wonder Valley! The shop also functions as the site of our dinner series working with a chef and cooking over an open fire, the Wonder Valley Paladar, which we plan to have one in the early fall.
The Moment: You have a beautiful compound, incredible line of products, successful design business, and now a store! What’s next for Wonder Valley?
Keep growing the collection of products, more events, and hopefully new retail experiences outside of the desert.
The Moment: What keeps you present and in the moment?
We love what we do, it’s all rooted in imagination and intuition and enjoying the process. Olive Oil is one of our all time favorite beauty foods.
The Moment: What are some more of your favorite beauty foods?
Matcha tea, seaweed, mushrooms, and local honey.
Special thanks to Alison and Jay of Wonder Valley!