Bearded visionaries, a trippy tricked-out van, and lots of herbs. This isn’t a flashback to the 60s – it’s just another day at Juniper Ridge. The company bottles botanicals fresh from the West’s forests, deserts, and coastal regions to create “wilderness perfume” that captures a glimmering burst of the great outdoors. Inhabitat recently joined Juniper Ridge for a rollicking weekend hiking through Mount Tamalpais (just north of San Francisco), where we learned about the plants and techniques they use to craft their Winter Redwood fragrance. Hit the trail with us after the break!

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Several times a year Juniper Ridge rolls out its Field Lab for an exploratory trip into the great outdoors. The goal of these forays is to seek out new ingredients and test production processes that they later integrate into their perfumes. Each trip also yields a distinctive, limited-edition fragrance that varies every year – the flowers in bloom, the scent of the air, and the soil underfoot all affect the final product.

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Whereas most “natural” scents smell like pine sol or stale patchouli, Juniper Ridge‘s wildcrafted perfumes smell exactly like the plants and places they’re harvested from. Founder Hall Newbegin says: “People ask about being a wilderness perfumer [but] I don’t care about perfume . . . I dig into place. And if I dig deep into a place, that perfume or fragrance just assembles itself. It just comes together.”

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Winter Redwood is a smoky, earthy fragrance harvested from the slopes of Mount Tamalpais – a place near and dear to Hall Newbegin’s heart. He lives on one of its ridges and has spent years exploring its forests, meadows, and canyons. I joined Hall on a sunny day in January as he assembled his group of wilderness foragers on a crest overlooking the Pacific Ocean and descended into an unmarked ravine.

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For Hall, “digging into place” is a literal, visceral experience – as we approached a tranquil fern grove he asked each of us to stop, dig a small hole, and spend 10 minutes breathing in the scent of the soil. After a brief reverie amidst the damp leaves, clay, and moss, he asked us to collect handfuls of earth and place them in a bag – this leaf litter eventually formed the root of Winter Redwood‘s earthy basenote.

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As we explore the ravine, Juniper Ridge’s chief storyteller Obi Kaufmann points out sprigs of yarrow, carpets of sphagnum moss, and tendrils of yerba buena – a lemony, aromatic herb that served as the namesake of San Francisco before the gold rush. Meanwhile Juniper Ridge’s wilderness perfumer Tom Accettolla harvests fragrant flowers from bay laurel bushes and boughs of cedar for tinctures, steam distillations, and enfleurage.

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As we hike towards the ocean, Hall identifies patches of invasive plants and directs the group to weed them out. Habitat restoration is a crucial part of Juniper Ridge’s mission, and the company donates 10% of its profits to wilderness groups every year. To create Juniper Ridge’s products, Hall and Co. sustainably harvest plants from private properties with permission and from natural parks with permits.

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The real magic happens once we get to the base of the mountain. Tom, Hall and Obi unpack a converted whiskey still from the back of the Field Lab van (an 87 econoline biodiesel) and fire up the built-in record player. As The Peanut Butter Conspiracy plays, the team cracks beers and sets to work distilling the day’s finds – clumps of earth, cedar branches, and wild mushrooms all go into the pot.

Celine Thibault teaches a workshop on natural dye techniques and Tom makes tinctures from cedar branches and yerba buena leaves. Tom then prepares an enfluerage from the bay laurel flowers collected earlier in the day.

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The end product is a sensory snapshot of Mount Tamalpais as it was on that day – a literal bottle of mountain from top to bottom. So far Juniper Ridge has launched a Winter Redwood Beard Oil and a Trail Resin Cologne in extremely limited quantities – pick them up here before they’re gone, and follow their Instagram for upcoming Field Lab releases!

+ Juniper Ridge

Photos by Mike Chino for Inhabitat