We noticed the cryptic status update on Circa Estate Winery's Facebook page Friday night, as we snuck covert glances at Facebook amid the bustle in our tasting room.
"Circa is currently closed," was all it said.
Beneath it was a parade of replies from concerned fans, wondering if that meant for the night, for the weekend, for the season — or for good.
We couldn't fathom it being any more serious or permanent than a power outage, a snowstorm, some sort of building problem. We sent a few feelers out to try to get more information. But when I checked Facebook again as I sped-ate dinner in the backroom, I saw that a friend and fellow Circa fan had messaged to say that he'd called the winery and its voicemail message sounded ominous, citing closure due to circumstances beyond the owners' control. I called and heard the same.
Later in the evening, Margaret Bell, Circa's winemaker and the winery's co-owner, with husband David, gave me a ring in response to my frantic inquiries into the situation. We spoke for quite awhile, and while the exact details of what transpired are sensitive and are the Bells' story to tell, not ours, she gave me the go-ahead to let MBTB readers know that Circa is indeed closed long-term. It's not, she said, a result they ever wanted nor expected.
We originally met Margaret and David at the Grand Rapids International Wine & Food Festival a few years back, and we became enamored with their wines (especially Requisite, a Lemberger, and Improv, a white blend), inspired by their passion for their craft and impressed by their determination to produce wine and build their fan base their way, without compromising their personal visions. That extended to everything from relying exclusively on Leelanau fruit to selecting unique bottles based on creativity versus convention.
We also were charmed by the adjective-bearing buttons Circa became known for, which the Bells distributed in their tasting room and at events in a whimsical bid to encourage tasters to trust their own sense of what they detected on the nose and palate of their wines in lieu of relying on someone else's pre-set descriptions.
For us, a very fond memory is lounging on the beautiful patio at Circa one summer's day, sipping wine and munching on locally inspired small plates — whitefish dip from Leland and plump red strawberries from the farm next door — while chatting animatedly with David and Margaret.
From our encounters with them, we clearly got the sense that the Bells were bursting-at-the-seams passionate about every facet of their work. And, to put it simply, they're just interesting, friendly people with a story to tell.
Margaret described the opening of Circa as her and David's dream, and last night, she reflected fondly on what they accomplished during their years of operation on the Leelanau Peninsula and said they have no regrets.
"We are so proud of what we were and what we brought to Michigan wine," she said. "We loved what we did, and it wasn't long enough, and we're sorry for that. But the memories that we have are wonderful … we're so, so thankful we had that time."
Margaret spoke wistfully of the wines she had in production and proudly of the sell-out New Year's Eve festivities Circa just hosted. She said she was pleased that she and David could send their guests out into 2013 in upbeat fashion.
Even if the winery eventually evolves into another operation under different ownership — what will become of the property and tasting room is unclear — "it will never be Circa again," said Margaret, "because it was an extension of who we are."
We at MBTB want to wish Margaret and David all the best in their future endeavors, and thank them for the many cherished memories. Feel free to share your favorite memories of Circa and well-wishes for the Bells over on our Facebook page.