I stumbled across Bent Creek Winery by chance. That warm Sunday afternoon back in May wasn’t about business. A few friends and I were simply roaming around the Livermore Valley enjoying the impeccable weather. When the four of us wandered into their tasting room, it was just another stop on our self-guided tour. But after trying the wine, I was a fan.

My discovery of Bent Creek has some parallels to the winery’s beginning. When Pat & Tom Heineman originally purchased the land back in the 80’s, they had no aspirations of growing grapes, yet alone starting a winery. All that kind of happened by chance. At the time, they used the acreage to raise and ride horses. It was a great spot to get away from the stress of everyday life. For Pat and her good friend Carol Howell, who both worked as principals in the Livermore school district, another way of unwinding was to enjoy a nice glass of wine on Thursday evenings after their administrative meetings . That weekly ritual turned into a tradition (which they still follow to this day) and helped start them down the path towards their own winery, however indirectly.

During the 90’s many of the surrounding fields were planted with grapes, and Tom wanted something to keep him busy once he retired. He’d always had a knack for figuring things out and loved intellectual challenges. Since he’d never tried to grow grapes before, Tom knew the learning process would keep his mind engaged. However, if he were to start growing grapes, he also wanted some economic security. Thus, he went to a few of the neighboring wineries for advice. He asked what varietal they wanted to get their hands on but could not. Syrah was the common answer. By promising to grow Syrah, he was able to secure a five-year contract for Concannon to buy a percentage of his fruit, even though it wasn’t a common practice. With a good deal of economic safety in place, he moved forward with planting. 

After tasting some of the early vintages made with their vineyard’s fruit, they thought, huh? Could we do this? So Pat and Tom talked to Carol and her husband Rich about opening a small winery. None of them had experience with running and maintaining a winery, but the group was determined to learn. Several classes at UC Davis later and with a lot of help from their good friend Juan Rios, who had a bit more hands-on experience, they were able to open Bent Creek in 2002. 

Oddly enough, for Pat and Carol, their background as principles gave them a lot of prep for managing the winery. During their time as educators, they had gained a good deal of experience managing people, in both good situations and more trying ones. They also had experience with managing a large budget. The schools’ money had to be spent wisely, and clearly, so did a new winery’s. They also realized how important it is to pay attention to people and make them feel welcome and appreciated even when you’re busy. They’ve applied that notion to their tasting room. They try to greet anyone who walks through the door within the first fifteen seconds of their visit. 

Bent Creek from Above

Places like Bent Creek are the reason I prefer small wineries. You’re not just another face, another customer in a long line. If Bent Creek were only a business, that could be the case. But the winery is far more. It’s four good friends that followed the twists of fate into the world of wine and have stayed there because they truly love what they do. The feeling I get from speaking to the group is that, of course, they want you to enjoy their wines, but they also want you to feel like you’re part of the winery. That philosophy has taken them a long way, and Bent Creek shows no signs of slowing down. Next time you’re in Livermore, stop by the tasting room and see for yourself. 

To read reviews of Bent Creek wines click here