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Gabe Saglie's Blog

by Gabe Saglie, Senior Editor, Travelzoo
story published in the Santa Barbara News-Press on 10/8/15

Ferran 1 Ferran Contell imports Spanish wines into the U.S.

Ferran Contell just got back from Spain.  It’s familiar territory for him: he was born in Barcelona and grew up in Valencia.  And, ever since he and his wife moved to Santa Barbara last year, his life’s work has taken him back often.

Contell is a certified sommelier and owns Darsena Selections, a Santa Barbara-based import and distribution company focused on bringing hard-to-find Spanish wines to the U.S.  Spain’s famous Rioja, and the region’s signature Tempranillo grape, are in his purview often, of course.  “The Rioja wine region has been pursuing the elaboration of high quality wines for decades,” he told me this week, between vineyard visits in Spain. “Its style of long-aged wines has become their hallmark, showing that Tempranillo is a top class varietal.  When I smell it, it takes me back to Spain.”

But through his business, and through consumer classes he’s teaching at Santa Barbara City College’s Center for Lifelong Learning, he’s shedding the spotlight on other Spanish wine growing havens.  “Rioja, Ribera del Duero, and Priorat are regions with impressive propositions already recognized by the most important wine publications in the U.S.” Contell admits.  “The pursuit of quality wines is more common than ever before” in other regions, too, though.

2Contell visited Requena, in Valencia, during his recent trip to Spain

“In my last trip, I had the opportunity to explore the Valencia region, discovering surprising projects that I’m looking forward to seeing how they develop in the following years. Some of the varietals used are Muscat or Bobal, which are traditional grapes of the area, complemented with some international varietals.”

To share his findings, Contell is teaching a course titled “Discover the Truth About Spanish Wine.” Students will meet two Friday nights – October 23 and 30 from 6:30 to 9pm – at SBCC’s Schott Campus, at 310 W. Padre St. in Santa Barbara.  The classes and materials cost $87.

Contell’s ultimate goal is to eliminate wine consumers’ intimidation.  Although “people and wine are close than ever before,” he says, “the wine world is very complex and rich, with so much to offer, that it remains overwhelming for the beginners. No matter how much you learn, there is something else to discover.”

Contell is also teaching a class called “A Few Good Noses: Wine Tasting and Selection for the Novice” over two nights, October 9 and 16.  “Aroma is really important because it constitutes 80% of the taste,” he insists.  “Aromas in wine can tell you if the wine is clean or has a defect… and it will help to find the right match (or contrast) to any dish.”

Contell’s courses are a sampling of an impressive lineup of approachable culinary classes put on by the SBCC Center for Lifelong Learning (or CLL).  This program was re-launched in 2013; a shift in state funding made it necessary to retool what was once the college’s popular Continuing Education program for adults.  I took my very first wine class through that program – my first focused foray into wine enjoyment – with the late Cork Millner.

Today, the CLL offers hundreds of classes each term, across myriad specialty areas. It also produces one- and two-minute educational “Look and Learn” videos, and shares them on their website; Contell’s got one called “The Proper Way to Hold a Wine Glass.”

3Contell inspects barrels during his recent trip to Spain

The food and wine classes are especially popular, of course.  They’re affordable, and because they’re offered as one- or two-class sessions on weekdays, evening and even Saturdays, they’re accessible. “Discovering the joys of wonderful wines, and being able to pair them with yummy food, is a perfect fit for our approach, as promoting knowledge of healthy living styles is part of the CLL mission,” says executive director Andy Harper.  Some of the upcoming class titles include, “Chocolate and Cheese: A Luxurious Pairing,” “Foods that Complement Great Wines,” “Fast and Fabulous Hors d’Oeuvres” and “Craft Beer and Food Pairing – What’s Not to Like?”

All classes are also taught by locally-based experts in their field, and Harper admits that “as the reputation of our classes has increased, so has the number of applications from new teachers interested in offering classes.”

For Contell, teaching what he knows is buoyed by his own sense of discovery in his new home.  In Santa Barbara wine country, “the best is still to come,” he says.  “All that’s necessary is in place: climate, soils, vines, and knowledgeable winemakers with boundless ideas. I am looking forward to tasting and learning more from this wonderful region.”

For more information and to sign up for Contell’s or any of CLL’s classes, go to


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