One seldom knows what path life has in store. Mariano Cebrián, CSW, grew up in a region of Argentina, where he was surrounded by high-end, boutique, family wineries. He left that behind to play tennis in Europe and then accepted a scholarship at Georgia College & State University (GC&SU) in Milledgeville, Georgia.
After graduation, Mariano went on to pursue opportunities in Chattanooga, Tennessee. It was there that Mariano discovered a lack of access to quality Argentinian wine and particularly wines from boutique producers. This led him to establish Panoram Imports, which connects small, Argentinian producers with US markets.
As his reputation developed locally, his small venture grew into a life devoted to the promotion of Argentinian food, wine and culture. So Wine Tourist Magazine decided to reach out and find out a little more about what Mariano is up to.
WTM: How did you first become involved in importing wine?
Mariano: I have family back in Argentina in the wine business who had always joked that someday I'd “bring their wines to the United States.” After I graduated with my MBA from GC&SU, I knew I wanted to start my own business and suddenly, importing wine from Argentina seemed less like a family joke or dream and more of an opportunity. So, in 2010 I decided to pursue and build Panoram Imports alongside two partners, and studied to become a Certified Specialist of Wine (CSW).
As the business slowly grew, I was able to buy out my partners within a few years to become the sole owner, and in spring 2018 I was able to hire my new business partner and wife, Angelina Cebrián, full-time. We're still a small, family-run business that's positioned to continue to grow organically. We both wear many hats, but also have a lot of fun and we are truly passionate about the work we enjoy every day - introducing people to Argentine wine, food and culture.
WTM: What compelled you to begin promoting Argentinian food, wine and culture?
Mariano: When we initially started importing wine from Argentina, we were unsure of exactly how the wines would be received - especially from unknown brands. We quickly realized, however, that people were actively searching for unique wines from smaller producers. So it was a great time for us to get into the market.
I also fell in love with the educational aspect of wine, and began hosting wine dinners and educational tastings. From there we grew a local following.
Aside from being a very wine-centric country, Argentina is also known for having some of the best steak and cattle in the world. Because of this, we have a huge culinary culture of grilling a wide variety of meats, including some unique butchered cuts that you don't find anywhere else in the world. This style of grilling is called "Asado," and centers around slowing down around a fire and connecting with those around you while enjoying Argentine wine and grilled delicacies hot off the grill. It's a celebration of seared meats, community and culture enjoyed over several hours.
The "Asado" is a personal passion of mine, and I would often cook it for friends and family in the States who were unexposed to this style of cooking. I began getting asked to come cook for birthdays, business-related dinners and I realized there was an opportunity for us to share more of our culture through food... which is wine's best friend. So, we expanded the business to Panoram Asados, in which we bring a full-service, catered offering of our "Argentine Asado Experience" to backyards or event spaces.
As these two business grew, again customers kept asking us "when are we going to go to Argentina to see these wineries and experience this culture," and thus - Panoram Tours was born. We began creating exclusive, behind-the-scenes Wine Tours to Argentina with our vineyard partners.
WTM: Can you tell us a little about how you promote Argentinian food, wine and culture in the greater Chattanooga area?
Mariano: Most of our promotion comes from word of mouth, previous clients and strategic partners, such as wine shops, restaurants and wine clubs. We also are very active on social media, including Facebook and Instagram, and do both email campaigns and advertise our public events on outlets such as Facebook, Eventbrite, The Juice and other local event sites.
WTM: Your wine and culture tours grew out of your local effort. Can you tell us a little about that?
Mariano: So, ever since we began importing wine and telling the unique stories of these boutique, small production, family-owned vineyards in Argentina, customers kept asking us "when are we going to go to Argentina to see these wineries and experience this culture?" I saw another opportunity because as the importer, we have an intimate, long-standing relationship with these wineries. We have exclusive, behind-the-scenes access with our vineyard partners, thanks to our personal relationship with their owners, vineyard managers, winemakers. Because of this, we're able to create experiences not offered to the public and that are certainly more privileged than your average winery visit and tasting.
Our customers get to enjoy lunches and dinners with the owners at their vineyards, be personally walked through the vines and learn viniculture alongside vineyard managers, taste rare wines from steel vats and family cellars with the winemaker. Simply put—they get to see and experiences Argentina's wine culture in a way that others won't. So because of the customer interest and our unique connections and outstanding Argentine partners, Panoram Tours was born.
WTM: How do you see your business evolving over the next few years?
Mariano: Our goal is to reach more states in the Southeast, including Alabama, South Caroline, North Carolina and Florida. We'd like to increase our Panoram Tours trips to Argentina to introduce more people to our vineyard partners as well as immerse our guests in the uniqueness and passion of Argentine cuisine and culture firsthand.
WTM: What advice do you have for wine drinkers just becoming acquainted with Argentinian wine?
Mariano: Drink a lot of it! Argentine wine is typically very fruit forward and easy to drink so that everyone can appreciate; often medium body in style across a range of varieties. That's also key. Argentina has many varieties and is more than just Malbec. Talk to your wine shop specialist and tell them what you typically like to drink, and they can recommend similar Argentine wines that fit your taste profile.
Argentina has seven distinct wine regions and each region has different characteristics. Venture out away from Malbec and try Bonarda, Torrontés, Rosé, aged Tannat, unoaked Chardonnay or a Cabernet Franc from Argentina. Look for small importers who work with small production, family-owned vineyards; the end product is typically of greater quality and value than the mainstream brands. Altitude also plays a key role in Argentine wine. Because of the unique conditions that altitude can bring to the vines, the higher the altitude often the more interesting the wine.
WTM: Is there one, commonly available, Argentinian wine you think all wine drinkers should be aware of?
Mariano: Malbec, of course. Because it's easy to drink, you're certain to be safe when you take Malbec to a dinner or party. But I'd also venture to say Bonarda and Torrontés are two others they should be aware of and looking for. Bonarda is the second most planted grape in Argentina; it's an earthier, spicier version of Malbec with unique hints of spice. Torrontés is a super fresh, aromatic white wine that's full of citrus and white flowers that pairs well with seafood, spicy cuisine and summertime!
WTM: If you could do anything else, what would it be?
Mariano: I'd own a small vineyard in a high altitude region, produce my own unique wine, and have people visit from all over the world and show them through wine, food and culture how passionate we Argentines are!