In Los Angeles it's easy to assume at a restaurant your waiter might also be an actor, but in Santa Barbara he might be a winemaker. At least that's the case for Aaron Watty, who works as a waiter at bouchon in Santa Barbara and also makes the highly sought-after Big Tar Wines. (When all your friends are in the restaurant business, and they like you and your wines, your small production sells out fast.)
When asked what it's like being a waiter by night and winemaker by day (as if people don't harvest before the sun comes up to keep the grapes cool), Watty says, "It is a lot of work, but it took me till I was in my 40s to figure out what I wanted to do when I grew up, so I am enjoying it all. I'm currently the assistant winemaker at Longoria Wines so I am busy with two wineries and have cut back restaurant work during harvest. It's fun seeing people at the winery during the day and then serving them at the restaurant at night."
As for the winery's name, it's not because he makes inky syrahs, especially since one of his best wines is a sprightly sauvignon blanc. "I altered a Big Star Jeans hat while living in New Jersey, because the guys that I was hanging around with busted my chops wondering if I was a big star from California," Watty explains. "When I moved to Manhattan I had many people inquire, 'What is Big Tar?' I wasn't sure at the time, but I knew the name was good."
After growing up in France and working in the restaurant business in New York City in the early '90s, he became more and more entranced by wine. "I did my first harvest in Santa Barbara in 1996," he recalls. "After that first harvest I attended Allan Hancock College and changed my life's path."
In 1996 he was able to bottle up a tempranillo/syrah blend from wines at Sunstone for a school project, about which he says, "I was excited by what was in the bottle, but I needed to learn and know more. I only made 15 cases, but it was a start." After a few years working in the Santa Ynez Valley, Big Tar -- that catchy name had finally found its home -- made its debut 2012. He says, "I made 200 cases of sauvignon blanc that I released and promptly sold out in four months."
Watty currently has four wines bottled, a 2013 McGinley Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc (235 cases), a 2012 Sta. Rita Hills Pinot Noir (50 cases), a 2012 Happy Canyon Cabernet Sauvignon (50 cases), and a 2012 3CV sangiovese (25 cases). In addition, he has three more wine in tank and barrels, to be bottled soon.
As for what he think is worst about winemaking, he claims, "Bees. A few harvests ago I was stung eleven times in one day. Thank god for Benadryl." As for what's best, he says, "All of it! I love working with the different varietals, learning about all the characteristics of each varietal, working in the vineyards, cellar work. I got started in the winemaking aspect late in life so I am learning new things daily. I found something I truly live to do!"