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Travels in Chile - Part 3 -Apalta Valley in Santa Cruz

Updated: Apr 22, 2020

© Bless the Nest 2020. All Rights Reserved.

After some much-needed rest at the house, Lilo took us to explore the Apalta Valley in Santa Cruz, Chile where Francis Mallmann's restaurant, Fuego de Apalta is and also the Viu Manent vineyard of The Valle de Colchagua. The first stop was Viu Manent.

The amazing horse ride in the vineyard at Viu Manent tour

© Bless the Nest 2020. All Rights Reserved.

We pulled up into the parking spot, which was literally underneath a vineyard trellis. The parking attendant greeted us with a smile and took us to an area of the vineyard where the ripe grapes were and plucked a couple off and gave them to us to try. It was the coolest way to be greeted and the grapes were absolutely delicious! Lilo stayed in the car for an afternoon siesta as he had been to this vineyard many times before.

Martin and I headed inside for the tour on the history of the vineyard. Viu Manent is owned by the Viu family. It was founded in 1935 when the Catalonian immigrant Miguel Viu-García and his two sons Agustín and Miguel Viu-Manent founded Bodegas Viu in Santiago. They bottled and sold wine on the local market under the “Vinos Viu” brand. In 1966 Miguel Viu Manent fulfilled his long-time dream of making his own wines when he acquired the Hacienda San Carlos de Cunaco in Colchagua. This traditional estate included 150 hectares of vineyards planted to noble, pre-phylloxera vines, as well as a winery and manor house. After learning the history we embarked on a horse and carriage ride through the vineyard, it was like a fairy tale. We met a family on the tour from The Netherlands who were embarking on a trip of all of South America, they were very nice people. We even got to pet the horses who were quite friendly and very smart, as they knew how to reverse and back the carriage up when we stopped to get out and see the distillery process. The tour guide was very sweet and on point. We then headed back to the manor house where they had set up a tasting for us with five different wine varietals. It was an unbelievable experience and a dream come true. Thank you Viu Manent for the day of pampering, wine knowledge and a much-needed breath of fresh air in the vineyards!

Fuego de Apalta, Francis Mallmann's restaurant

Fuego de Apalta Restaurant

Our next spot was just a few miles away to Fuego de Apalta, Francis Mallmann's restaurant. Martin and I are big fans and supporters of Francis Mallmann. We first discovered him watching one of our favorite shows, Chef's Table on Netflix. There was a story about him and his method of cooking with fire and barbecue in his native Argentina. He was just so philosophical in his everyday life from the way he cooked to the way he viewed the world. His respect for nature and his admiration for life and all the elements is profound.

Martin was so inspired by him that he mentioned him in his book that he wrote, "Friday's with Goodman" in the section about friendship. Francis had said that he had a close friend who he basically grew up with and they shared many memories, but he decided later in life that they didn't have anything in common anymore and that he decided to stop talking to him. Martin had felt that very same way with a few of his old friends and he put that very same quote in his book. So, when Lilo told us where we were going, we were like two kids fueled with excitement! We were having lunch at Francis Mallmann's restaurant, omg!!!

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As we drove up to the restaurant which was literally in the middle of the vineyard our hearts were racing, views of 360-degree panoramic mountains and acres and acres of wine making beauty. We walked up to the restaurant which was a very rustic contemporary and modern with unbelievable views and outdoor patio seating.

We sat outside and had a wonderful lunch, starting with Tomates del Huerto which were the garden tomatoes with olives and breadcrumbs and empanadas that were fire-roasted in the clay oven. Martin had the Bife de Cordero, which was the lamb steak. Lilo had the Lomo Vetado con chimichurri which was the grilled ribeye with crushed potato and chimichurri. I had the Pesca del dia, ratatouille y salmoriglio which was the fresh fish of the day with the ratatouille. Salmoriglio is a traditional sauce for seafood, which is a dressing of olive oil, garlic, lemon juice, salt, peperoncino, and fresh parsley. We feasted like queens and kings and took in the scenery, and just felt so grateful for our trip and Lilo's hospitality. Martin decided to go use the bathroom before we left and came back to the table with wide beaming eyes and a big smile and says, "Francis Mallmann is in the restaurant sitting at a table!!!". I couldn't believe it. We both walked over to his table and Martin asked him if it was okay to say hello. He put down his paper and stood up and we shook his hand. Lilo came over to the table to say hello too and shake his hand. Martin told him about how he wrote the passage about friendship in his book and he smiled. He was a man of few words, but we knew that going over. He's extremely private as are most artists, but very nice. We said goodbye and wished we had asked to take his picture, but we knew that he respected that we didn't. Right after we walked away someone else came up to him and asked for a photo which was funny. Sometimes the power of memory has more sincerity.

(Martin) Walking back from the bathroom I am in awe because the setting is so beautiful. An outside corridor runs along the restaurant, and the vineyard grapes are literally arms-length away, breathing the fresh air and to my left is an inside eating area with wall to ceiling glass.

Francis Mallmann hand (lol)

As I am walking I see a silhouette of a man in an all-white chef's outfit eating alone reading the newspaper. I look closer and see the signature fedora hat and instantly recognize it's Francis Mallmann, the owner and celebrity chef. I couldn't believe it because he's from Argentina, living most of the time in a secluded island in the middle of a lake in Patagonia, what are the odds? After the encounter, we found out he comes for three weeks sporadically throughout the year and has a house up on the mountain next to the restaurant. So back to my story, I rushed back to our table, smiling like a schoolboy, grabbed my dad and Ashley and sped walked over to his table. I am a huge fan, and as Ashley described above, his words were so impactful, on friendships and apprenticeship, I have a whole paragraph about him in my book. He greeted us graciously and shook all of our hands and listened to my rant and admiration I had about his experience he talked about on the Netflix series, Chef Table. I didn't get the vibe he wanted to be bothered with a photo and left with our simple goodbyes. Only to turn around and see a couple ask him for his picture right after our conversation. Missed my shot, or did I? As is life, some things are better left as a warm memory and experience I got to share with love, Ashley, and my amazing father.

The food was fantastic and Ashley described it pretty perfectly. It is, literally, a dreamlike rustic fantasy land in the middle of a 360° envelopment of grapes and root of the very bottle we were enjoying at our table. Thank you, Francis. Thank you, Dad. We loved our experience at Fuegos De Apalta.

© Bless the Nest 2020. All Rights Reserved.

Thanks for exploring our adventure through these amazing vineyards and restaurants of Apalta Valley in Santa Cruz, Chile. We loved it there so much.

Check to our last day of "Travels in Chile" blog here.

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