About a year ago, Ben and I spent a glorious spring living and working in Cape Town, South Africa. Cape Town is the kind of place that is simultaneously so beautiful and so complex that it pulls the breath straight from your lungs. Walking home from work, I’d stare at the sun, watch Table Mountain enshrouded in fog and feel a spine-pulling gratitude to be alive. In Cape Town, penguins lie black and white and heavy on beaches and barbed wire curls and crunches intimately around homes and two oceans meet. The city vibrates on another frequency. There is a lot to say about the city, but this particular story is all about wine. There was a lot of wine. Cape Town is about 30 minutes from Stellenbosch, the largest wine region in South Africa and the birthplace of Pinotage, an extremely obscure varietal that we sort of, kind of think that we liked.
We both grew up in California, children of parents who liked wine and sometimes talked about tannins at the dinner table—I remember falling asleep on the couch to the sound of laughter and clinking glasses in our kitchen. We weren’t strangers to a culture that lauded grapes as if they were God. However, we had never experienced wine the way that we did in Cape Town—accessible, open, and lacking the loftiness I always resented at home.
There was a bar with wooden tables and big windows a few blocks from our apartment. On Tuesday nights they offered free wine tasting. It would always be full of young Capetonians wearing fedoras, sporting mustaches and brimming with questions. We would sit on stools, on tabletops, exhausted from work, trying to blend in. The same man lead the tastings every week, bringing in different wineries. He wore funny hats and swished his glass emphatically. He loved wine with an ardor I hadn't experienced. His metaphors were over the top. He poured himself twice as much as everyone else. It was a pure love that we benefited from--we got to hear about varietals, vintages, blends from the winery owners themselves. I finally almost understood what minerality meant. Almost. The more we sipped, the more we learned.
We came back to the States a few months later, dazed and slightly culture-shocked. It wasn't until I was walking through the grocery store after work one day, trying to pick a bottle to drown my internship sorrows in, that I realized the magic of Cape Town had vanished. All of the bottles looked the same. All the cheap options tasted horrible. I couldn't make a decision. I was embarrassed to ask for help.
Our experience with wine—dancing in the dark, pressed against a sinking sun, balancing glasses on our knees on mountaintops, drinking from the bottle in the middle of the desert, so quiet that the wind in the trees was deafening—was non-existent in America.
Here, wine is still distinctly out of reach. It’s expensive, pretentious, confusing, homogeneous, stuffy—all of the things that sunsets and deserts and mountains and stars are not.
We wanted to fix that. Which is how we embarked on this adventure. We wanted to bring the vitality, the joie de vivre, the carpe diem, back into wine. We were at the beginning of our senior year--it felt like the beginning of the end, the end of the beginning and the opportunity to start something hung temptingly in those warm September evenings. We were lucky enough to meet our third partner—the undeniable ying to our yang—in class around the same time. Adarsh brings intelligence, optimism, perspective, and a sense of levity to the team that I'm always grateful for. Between the three of us, there was a palpable sense of possibility that we couldn't pass up.
Starting a business is hard. It has been long nights, early mornings, coffee, whiteboards, running our heads against the same walls over and over again, sticky notes, tears—all of those clichéd entrepreneurial tropes you can think of. But it has also been brilliant, challenging, terrifying, the most viscerally rewarding risk I've ever taken.
And we're just getting started.
Welcome to Motxo.
Ben took all the photos.