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A Sweet New Enterprise / Robert Entenmann still knows his cookies, but now he's trying his hand at turning grapes to wine

WHILE the East End's wine grape harvest has been completed and the musty aroma

of fermenting grape juice hangs heavy over Long Island wineries, for one

vintner the pressing of this year's crop marked the beginning of more than just

another vintage.

This autumn marked the debut of Martha Clara Vineyards' 1998 Viognier, the

first wine ever from a Riverhead wine producer whose owner's name for more than

a century has been associated with doughnuts, pies and chocolate chip cookies.

Robert Entenmann, 71, is the grandson of bakery founder William Entenmann-and

he's still a consultant to the Bay Shore baking company. Four years ago, he

began growing wine grapes on the grounds of his Big E Farm, the thoroughbred

racehorse farm he established not long after his family sold the wholesale

bakery. Now, 87 acres of former horse pasture are planted with vines and

another 25 acres have been planted on another parcel of land east of the farm

in Mattituck.

Martha Clara is named for Robert Entenmann's mother, known around the bakery as

"Mrs. E." The name was chosen, he said, because "I just thought it was a nice

thing to do."

The Entenmanns sold the business in 1978 to pharmaceutical giant Warner-

Lambert for $233 million. The bakery has since been sold or acquired several

times and now is owned by BestFoods. Martha Entenmann died in 1996 at the age

of 89.

The baking family scion was the first of the big-name, big-money players to

join Long Island's burgeoning wine industry. Others, most of whom have bought

vineyards this year, include New World Cinema President Michael Lynne, who

bought Corey Creek Vineyards in Southold; Houston Rockets owner Leslie

Alexander, who has purchased three North Fork farms totaling 125 acres for his

planned B&L Farms vineyard and Italian-born businessman Marco Borghese, who

recently bought Hargrave Vineyards. Others, perhaps less well-known, include

Ronkonkoma construction company owner Jack Petrocelli, who is building a

multimillion-dollar winery at his 70-acre Raphael Vineyards in Peconic;

Manhattan funds manager Paul Lowerre, who with his wife, Ursula, bought for $2

million what is now Peconic Bay winery in Cutchogue, and a group of Chilean

investors who purchased Laurel Lake Vineyards in Laurel for $2.7 million.

"I'm doing it for my daughter," Entenmann said, noting that his recently wed

daughter, Jackie Connolly, who once worked in the media office of former Sen.

Alfonse D'Amato, will be heavily involved in the wine business. "I wanted to

set her up in a family business." Jackie Connolly and her husband, John, the

former captain of a 72-foot sport-fishing yacht in Cape Cod, have been slowly

learning about the wine business since returning earlier this month from their

honeymoon in Italy. They were wed Oct. 9 at the vineyard.

John Connolly will focus on the vineyard and "will probably help in sales,"

Jackie Connolly said, adding that she would "probably focus on marketing and

communications."

Entenmann, who was motivated to plant his vineyard after Long Island grape

growers had harvested two above-average crops - 1993 and 1994 - said that while

he still owns a dozen horses, horse breeding is largely behind him. "We had

accomplished what we set out for. We had a horse of the year," he said. "I

decided to try something else."

So far, it seems Entenmann is off to a promising start. His first wine has

received good marks from critics and is selling well after only a month on the

market. And as a grower he is getting credit from others in the industry for

proceeding cautiously and taking the steps necessary to ensure that his

vineyards will produce quality fruit.

To be sure, Entenmann, who is enjoying his life as a vintner, is very much a

hands-on owner. "It's a lot of fun," he said as he clicks on a TV remote

control in his home for a stock market update on CNBC.

Entenmann, it appears, also has a good grasp of vineyard economics.

"It's expensive to do it," he said, explaining that the vineyard and winery

business is not the kind of business for someone seeking a quick profit.

"You can make money-after 10 years," he explained. "The vines should be 5 years

old before making wine."

Entenmann explained that the vines in his vineyard are more densely planted

than in those who preceded him in the business: 1,250 vines per acre, compared

with 850. His newest vines are being planted 2,000 to the acre. The aim, he

said, is not to get more grapes, but grapes with more flavor intensity by

forcing the vines to compete with each other for nutrients.

He said others on Long Island also have begun to plant more densely, and "even

California is going closer."

"What they are striving for in their vineyard is consistency," said Roman Roth,

who makes Martha Clara wine at the Wolffer Estate Sagpond Vineyards winery in

Sagaponack under a contractual arrangement. "They have had it two years in a

row." Noting the difficulties late-season rains caused for some vineyard

owners, Roth said that Martha Clara "really pulled out a winner." Entenmann,

though, is more modest. "It's good, but I wouldn't call it great."

In 1998, Entenmann sold most of his young-vine fruit to various other East End

wineries, and made 270 cases of viognier, a white wine traditionally used to

produce the rare aromatic Condrieu wines of France's southeastern Rhone region.

This year, he stepped up production to 3,600 cases and has plans to make 5,000

cases next year. He plans to increase production by 2,000 cases annually,

eventually reaching 20,000 to 30,000 cases. "You've got to build up a

reputation and start getting some pricier wines," he added.

"He definitely goes slowly at it," Roth said of Entenmann's progress. "He's not

rushing it."

While Entenmann currently has his wine made at Wolffer Estate, he is counting

on completion next year of Premium Wine Group, a privately owned custom-crush

winery-one that lets others use its facilities for a fee to make their wines-to

produce his year 2000 vintage. Premium is owned by winemaker Russell Hearn and

two investors, and "It's more economical [when you start out] to have your

wine made by someone else," he noted, adding that Roth will consult on

production in the new Cutchogue winery. "I like his style," Entenmann said of

the Wolffer winemaker.

Meanwhile, Entenmann has plans to deepen his involvement in the wine business.

He plans to break ground for a $4 million, 2,500-square-foot tasting room in

Mattituck next spring, where visitors will be able to sample and purchase his

wines. In a few more years, he plans to add a winery at the additional cost of

$2 million to $3 million.

Entenmann is optimistic about his prospects. "I feel we'll do well. I've got a

great vineyard manager," he said of Wotek Majewski, who previously worked at

Macari Vineyards in Mattituck and Pindar Vineyards in Peconic.

It is a wine industry axiom that great wine is produced in the vineyard. "If

you follow the rules, you'll have a great wine," he said. "I learned that in

the bakery business. You buy the best ingredients."

Despite the fact that his first wine is a white wine, Entenmann plans to

produce mostly reds in the future, including merlot, syrah - a Bordeaux-style

blend - and, when the weather cooperates, a cabernet sauvignon.

Entenmann's effort has won him plaudits from Paumanok Vineyards owner Charles

Massoud, who is also president of the Long Island Wine Council, an owners

group. "His vineyard is perfect," said Massoud, adding that the entry of big

spenders such as Entenmann and others - compared with his mom-and-pop type of

operation - will benefit the industry as a whole. "He brings a lot of

credibility to the industry and to the region," Massoud said. "We're very

happy for what they're doing."

Entenmann's first wine has received good notices in the media and in just a

short time has landed a place on wine lists at 11 Long Island restaurants, most

of them North Fork eateries.

"A lot of the restaurants are doing it by the glass," said Pam Hunt,

Entenmann's assistant. "Since we don't have a tasting room, it's the best way

to get people to taste our wines." She said in the roughly one month that the

wine has been available there already have been re-orders.

The Connollys recently dined at the Jamesport Country Kitchen and saw the

Martha Clara wine on the list. "It was the first time I've seen it out in

public," said Jackie Connolly. "Seeing our wine on a local wine list was

incredible."

Of the 270 cases produced, 150 remain, Hunt said. The wine retails for about

$15 a bottle.

"Very appealing start to finish, with good acidity and hints of peach and

apple," Newsday's Peter Gianotti wrote in reviewing the wine last month.

"It's better than most of the California I have had," said Michael Demchek,

owner of Michael's Liquors in Riverhead, the only retailer so far to stock the

wine. "It's doing wonderfully," he added.

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