The Petoskey Wine Region is the North’s next frontier in cool climate viticulture and Walloon Lake Winery co-owner Britta Dennis and winemaker Matt Killman are leading the charge with fresh, fruit-driven wines pressed from cold-hardy grapes like Marquette and La Crescent.

We sit down with Britta and Matt for a primer on hybrid varietals and some insight into Petoskey’s emerging wine scene.

You’re winning awards and running a successful winery in a non-traditional growing zone, how does that work?

Well, it’s too cold here for traditional vitis vinifera like riesling or pinot noir so we have to focus on grapes that are suited to the climate. That means the cold-hardy stable hybrid grapes like Marquette and La Crescent that were developed at the University of Minnesota.

What should we know about these hybrid grapes?

Just like vinifera, hybrids each have their own personality and they make delicious wine. They don’t make inferior or superior wine, they make the wine that they make and we just try to guide each one toward its best expression. Because of their resilience to cold and disease, the quality of the fruit stays more consistent from year to year.

How do La Crescent and Marquette relate to wines we might be familiar with?

Both are super relatable for most wine drinkers. La Crescent has showy lemon meringue aromatics and really crisp acidity that’s a lot like sauvignon blanc. Marquette is very dark and low in tannins but its signature cherry characteristics and bright acid make it similar to pinot noir.

What is tasting room culture like in the Petoskey Wine Region?

There’s a ton of variety. We’re 12 wineries within the larger Tip of the Mitt AVA—and everyone is doing something different. All of our wineries are small family enterprises so pretty much anywhere you go you’ll find an owner, winemaker or family member filling your glass, and we’re all supporting each other.

Take a Petoskey Wine Tour

We’ve engineered a summer Saturday in Petoskey full of snaky scenic highways, wine tasting and an al fresco food truck lunch. Cheers.

WALLOON LAKE WINERY // 231.622.8645

Stock up on Walloon Lake Winery’s lemony Wildwood White and the black plum and lavender-laced Randall’s Point Red for aprés-tasting beach bottles.

RUDBECKIA WINERY // 231.622.4173

Rudbeckia’s hybrid plantings will come online in 2020 but for now swirl a zippy dry riesling sourced from Lake Michigan Shore or sip their award-winning hard cider.

THE BACK LOT // 231.881.9933

Mim’s gyros, Happy’s tacos and cold pints of craft brew at P-town’s open-air food truck emporium make for a much needed midday intermission.


Finish out the day with rolling vistas and a cold glass of First Crush, a juicy semi-sweet Frontenac rosé full of ripe strawberry and tropical fruit.

Photo(s) by Dave Weidner