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Bure thriving with family winery post-NHL career

After retiring from the NHL, Valeri Bure has built up a successful winery in Napa Valley

by George Johnson @GeorgejohnsonCH / CalgaryFlames.com

Those evenings, around dusk, the sky above Napa Valley as blue as a robin's egg, warm, maybe a soft accompanying breeze, are beyond compare.

"I'm sitting on our property,'' says Valeri Bure, "normally by myself, and I'm drinking a glass of our wine.

"I look down and there's a vineyard below. Our vineyard. And I can't believe this little kid from Russia, having all of this.

"It is … unbelievable.

"It just does not get any better. Being out there on the patio is one of those moments when you just stop, take it all in and go, 'Wow.'

"Super, super cool."

Nearly two decades have passed since Pavel's blonde kid brother arrived to join the Calgary Flames a deal that sent winger Jonas Hoglund and defenceman Zarley Zalapski east to the the Montreal Canadiens.

Bure is 42 now, a dozen years removed from his final NHL appearance, with the Dallas Stars. His wife, actress Candace Cameron, co-hosts the popular daytime ABC talk show The View. The couple have three children: daughter Natasha, who recently appeared on The Voice, and two sons, Lev and Maksim.

Most of Bure's time the last 10 years or so has been taken up with Bure Family Wines, a labour of love that has developed into quite the success story.

The company's label is modelled on the family insignia of his great-grandfather, a watchmaker to the Russian czar. A modification: One of the two eagles on the insignia grips a hockey stick in its talons.

"I guess you'd call us a 'boutique' winery,'' reasons Bure. "But boutique wineries are usually anywhere between 3,000 cases to, oh, I'd say 20,000 cases a year.

"We're around 700 cases. So we're a very small boutique.

"What we are is high-end. Everything is done by hand. We don't cut corners. We use french-oak everywhere. We triple sort. We don't use tractors in the field.

"All those little pieces are important to us and make us different. We want quality control, first and foremost.

"This is my vision, my interpretation, of what a great wine should be.

"That's what our brand stands for."

The Pocket Russian Rocket's finest NHL seasons were spent at the 'Dome, scoring 26, 35 and 27 goals from 1998 through 2001. He was back then the centrepiece of the Young Guns promotional era, when Val Bure life-size cutouts greeted customers next to the candy shelves at Mac's convenience stores.

"You know what? I loved my time in Calgary. When I was traded from Montreal it was a shock. I'd heard about Brian (Sutter) and I was kinda nervous, y'now. He was known as a really demanding guy. Would we get along?"

"From Day One, he was a straight shooter, a hard-working coach. He coached the way he played. And we just … got along. We didn't talk that much but he knew exactly how to get to me. We had an open communication. I really liked him.

"Looking back, I think we were six months to a year away from being a very good team,'' reflects Bure now. "I just don't think we were given enough time. When they started to dismantle that team it was disappointing. It wasn't as if we'd been together six or seven years. All it was was about maturity level. It was kind of sad because it was something that Coatesy (GM Al Coates) had built looking to the future.

"But, as I said, I can't say enough about my time there.

"The city loved hockey players and hockey in general. I have nothing but fantastic memories of Calgary."

After being traded from the Flames to Florida on, Bure would play on for three more seasons - with the Panthers, Blues and, finally, Stars.

With persistent back problems and a desire to spend more time with his family, he retired at 31 after an attempt post-back-surgery comeback with the LA Kings fizzled.

Having fallen in love with Napa Valley, it was then that he began meeting California winemakers.

"I started working during the harvest. That's when it clicked in my head that this is what I really wanted to do after hockey.

"The excitement of picking the grapes from the vine. The excitement of sorting the fruit. The excitement of seeing the wine in the barrels.

"The whole process, that starts in a March or an April and then two and half years it's in the bottle?

"That is a really special experience.

"Being able to share your passion with friends, having people say, 'Yours is one of the best wines I've tried,' is very rewarding. But I'm not trying to satisfying anybody's palette - I make wine I love. And if that translates into something other people love, too, that's a win-win situation.

"When our customers send us pictures of them drinking our wine on vacation skiing, say, or at a family celebration, it's a connection you build.

"That's, to me, what wine is all about: Family, connection."

The limited supply-high quality equation has proven highly successful. Bure's wine is only sold to mailing-list clients and may take up to two and a half to three years to get your name on that list.

Majesty Blend, Nuit Blanche, and Duration are the wines currently in production.

"Every year is different, like hockey,'' he explains. "In hockey, you know it's going to be 82 games. With us, we know we're going to pick September or October. But just like every game is different, every harvest is different, every bottling is different.

"There's never a dull moment, where you think, 'Hey, I nailed this year so next year we'll do exactly the same.' Doesn't work that way. You've got to stay on top of the game. Same as hockey.

"Seeing the whole process unfold is what's amazing."

Away from the game, Val Bure doesn't follow the NHL too closely these days. He's gets his shinny fix in other ways, closer to home.

"My two boys, 14 and 16, are playing hockey, and I'm on the ice with them almost every day, coaching them, giving them tips.

"In fact, that's where I'm going for three hours tonight. I know the wine is still gonna be there. With my kids, time goes by so fast. I like shooting pucks on the goalie, showing them the tricks I have up my sleeve.

"Sometimes they listen, sometimes they don't."

A rink and a vineyard. The two places Val Bure feels most at home.

So what, he's asked, would he consider more of a kick: Beating a goaltender with a nifty deke for a breakaway game winner, or being outside as dusk approaches in Napa, overlooking the vineyard, glass of his own wine in hand, marvelling at how far the little kid from Russia has come?

"Ahhhhhh. Oh, man,'' Bure replies. "Tough question.

"When you score the big goal, it's so quick and so natural and it happens so fast … you did it and you celebrate and you're excited but only later, looking back, do you try and soak in what happened, replay it your head.

"It's just sheer excitement, this burst, a boom, and you have to come down off that high for the next shift.

"Here, at the property, I'm slowing everything down. So that actual moment lasts a lot longer.

"Each of them gives you an, 'Okay, that was awesome!' sensation, but out on that patio it lasts longer, turns into an almost kind of a 3D experience.

"So, same feeling, one just stretches out longer than the other.

"But trust me, they're both amazing."

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