It's a little secret of the winemaking business - the makers don't sell all their wine from their production. They'll typically hold back 10-20% of their production for future release. These sit sleeping quietly in the caves and storage areas of each of the makers sometimes for 20, 30, 50 or even more years! I've seen video (unluckily I wasn't there) of European winemakers pulling our some wines that were 100 years old and drinking great.
So the question is, besides buying the winery, how do we access these incredible gems?
There are a few techniques that you'll want to know and to find a truly special wine, like a birth year wine or an anniversary wine you might need to use all of these approaches, plus some patience. Oh, and don't forget a few sacks of gold because this won't be cheap.
Buy at Auction
I've written about auction houses before and it's a great way to access older vintages. The beauty here is that they have generally been collected and stored by a knowledgeable collector who stored them properly. Now, that's no guarantee that the wine is correct. Even perfect storage sometimes yields a bad bottle, but the better houses will stand behind the province of their product and they will have verified the storage conditions.
So where does this great aged wine come from? Dead guys, usually. And sometimes older collectors that have figured out that they can never drink all the wine they have and they are rotating out of a portion of their older wines that really need to be drunk soon. Their loss is your gain as these older wines, with age and ready to drink come at a very reasonable price compared to purchasing new. The best part is that you only have to buy great years, so no chance of a klunker.
Be on the List
Wineries love the people that love them. I guess that isn't hard to get. So how do you give love to a winery? Simple, buy lots of their wine. All the premium wineries have mailing lists and people that have been on the list for many years, particularly ones that are volume purchasers get their attention.
I have a friend that is a huge purchaser of Del Dotto Wines. I suspect that Dwayne is the top buyer for this winery, even ahead of most restaurants almost every year. When he calls and asks for a special wine, perhaps a few bottles of 30 year old wine to celebrate an anniversary, believe me - they try to deliver!
I was recently speaking with a few makers of epic Napa wines and they had another suggestion for accessing library wines. "Just Ask", was their suggestion. We are all human and if you have a great reason and a story, sometimes a bottle of that 50 year old Napa Cabernet can be found somewhere in the cellar. Not that I am suggesting it but, if you were celebrating 25 years being cancer free and wanted a single bottle to celebrate of your favorite wine - if I had a cellar full, I know I'd try my best to find one!
Let's be clear, see the section above. If you are a long time client and supporter, your odds are way better, but it never hurts to ask. The worst they can say is, "No".
Know a Sommelier
As a corollary to the second idea of being a big client, having a big client ask for you can work as well. If you have a favorite restaurant, and I mean one that you know the general manager and sommelier by first name, you have an opening. I'd study their list and see what wineries are big suppliers of theirs. Then go to the Sommelier and ask if they can get a bottle of that special vintage from a larger supplier of theirs. If they are deep in that wine and go ask for you - there is a good shot they will be able to produce.
Realize, you are now celebrating that special event at your favorite restaurant (which might be okay) and I'd definitely suggest offering a taste of that well aged wine to the Sommelier as a thank you for getting it.
Getting an aged wine isn't an every day occurrence, but if you want to really celebrate, it's a great way to make the event special.
In addition to writing for Inc.com on business topics, Jim is a Certified Sommelier from the Guild of Master Sommeliers