John Catalano planted two rows of grapevines in his Steiner Ranch backyard and reaped a dream.
John and his business partners, Audrey, Marilee and Debbie Bruce, his wife, sister and sister-in-law, respectively, have opened Bent Oak Winery at 2000 Windy Terrace, off RM 620 and Anderson Mill Road.
A software engineer who moved to Steiner Ranch in 2005, John said he planted the homegrown vineyard to learn about the growing process and how to communicate better with growers.
“One of the things you understand pretty quickly is that good wine starts in the vineyard. It’s an agriculture process, a farming endeavor. I started growing vines so I could be educated and talk to the growers,” John said.
John and Audrey developed a palate for wine when living in Europe. “We would pack up with the kids and travel on the weekends. We fell in love with the beers and wines as we visited different places. When we got back to the states, we started brewing our own beers and making wine,” John said.
He stills brews beer for at-home consumption only. Winemaking, however, is a passion to be shared.
“High tech has been an avenue to pursue what we really love – winemaking. We’ve started and sold a couple of software companies, the latest to Computer Sciences Corporation. I owe them one more year of work and then I’ll be a fulltime winemaker,” John said.
Even as part-time winemakers, however, Bent Oak owners are dedicated in a manner that they believe is unique in the highly competitive industry.
They travel Texas and California seeking reputable growers.
“We’re very careful about from whom we source our grapes. We bring the best from each state,” John said. “It’s a challenge to get good growers who understand our needs. I travel to visit with them several times a year. I’m a strong believer in getting out in vineyards and working with growers.”
Another feature of Bent Oak Winery is its distinct offerings. Texas wines are separate from California wines. “We’re not blending,” John said.
From east Texas and the state’s high plains’ vines, the selection includes Blanc Du Bois, Merlot, Sangiovese and Tempranillo wines.
California vines from Sonoma Mountain, Russian River Valley and Dry Creek Valley create Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Zinfandel, Pinot Noir and Viognier wines.
While blending of grapes may be against their winemaking philosophy, winery owners want their label to reflect geographic associations.
“We chose the name, Bent Oak, because we wanted something that connected Texas and California. Both states have live oaks, which are also prevalent in winemaking. Then, one day, we saw this beautiful bent oak. It brought together our concept and no one else seemed to have the name,” John said.
They took a picture of the tree, sent it to their artist and she designed the label.
Bent Oak Winery officially launched in 2014. Public sales, however, didn’t begin until October 2015, when all red wines, in addition to the white wines, had aged properly.
Now, working to increase their market presence, the winery is talking with local restaurants and retailers, such as H-E-B and a wine and liquor store.
“We’re getting a lot of traffic at the winery too,” John added. “One of the fun things is our tasting room. Tasting is right next to the barrels.
Although many who come in are educated regarding wine, some are not.
“Some customers tell us they only like red wine, but suddenly we have them drinking Chardonnay or Blanc Du Bois. Blanc Du Bois and Cabernet are our best sellers,” he said.
The Bent Oak Winery tasting room is open from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., Saturdays and noon to 5 p.m., Sundays. To schedule a private tasting or an event, call the winery at (512) 788-3254 or, for more information, go to www.bentoakwinery.com.