Brandon Seager of Coltivare and TC3
Interview by Erin Scherer
Opened in December, Coltivare (pronounced col-tee-var-ay) is a laboratory restaurant launched alongside Tompkins Cortland Community College’s brand-new Culinary Arts and Sustainable Farming and Food Systems programs. The Culinary Arts program is the first program in New York State to specialize in a farm-to-table approach. Located in downtown Ithaca, Coltivare utilizes produce from TC3’s farm as well as other local food producers such as The Piggery and Lively Run Dairy.
The already established Hotel and Restaurant Management and Wine Marketing programs also play a major role in Coltivare. The latter is chaired by Brandon Seager, formerly the winemaker at Red Newt. Seager has utilized his long-standing connections in the local wine industry to create Coltivare’s by-the-glass offerings. With this mission, Seager hopes to convince consumers and local restauranteurs that Finger Lakes wines have value. “If you go to the Napa Valley, nobody ever questions why all the by-the-glass selections are from California, but here, they do,” Seager says.
What was the thought process behind featuring mainly local wines for your by-the-glass program at Coltivare?
When I crafted the wine list, I wanted Coltivare’s farm-to-bistro approach to be there, so the by-the-glass list is 100-percent local. Not New York, but the Finger Lakes. I tried to bring in the best wine that I could. Given the specific vintage being offered at the time, I chose them specifically because I think they represent the best the Finger Lakes has to offer. We have three Rieslings by the glass and a slew of reds that are a great representation of what the Finger Lakes can do with red wines in good vintages. I think that’s a very important learning tool.
How did you choose the local wines? What was that process like?
It’s a difficult process. It sounds like a great idea, “We’ll just make a wine list, and have all these great local selections.” But you have to take pricing and your market into account, certainly. I will say that our wine list is not just the Finger Lakes. If you come in and you want your California Merlot, it’s there by the bottle.
I’ve chosen the vintages carefully. I’ve chosen them so that we are really putting out the best of our region, and I’ve priced them as such that we’re not price gauging in any way. The prices are, in my opinion, low.
What is your relationship with local winemakers and wineries?
I come from the industry, so I’m not a career academic. I’ve been in the wine industry for almost 10 years, locally, and I felt like I have a good finger on the pulse of our industry. That’s part of the curriculum for my program: connecting my students to the industry, because that creates employability. I have a good relationship with every single producer. Most of them—when I talk to them—are excited about this and they thank me for featuring wines by the glass, because it’s something that should be done everywhere in Ithaca, and it’s not being done. That’s something we need to change in a positive way, and a conversation we need to have.
Click here for Part Two of this interview!
Photo by Robyn Wishna