Luxury blended sake brand IWA by champagne veteran Richard Geoffroy makes its latest creation, the IWA 5 Assemblage 3, available here in Singapore this July.

Can a gaijin teach the Japanese something about sake?

In recent time here’s increasingly a foreign presence in the world of Japanese sake. Among others you have John Gauntner, a Tokyo-based American recognised as the world’s leading non-Japanese sake expert, or Philip Harper of Kyoto’s Kinoshita, an Englishman who is Japan’s first foreign-born toji (brewer) making the house’s award-winning Tamagawa as well as his own Fukubukuro brand.

Now you add another name to the list – Frenchman Richard Geoffroy.

If that name sounds familiar, you may know him from his time at Dom Pérignon. Geoffroy was Chef de Cave for Dom Pérignon for 28 years before retiring and moving to the world of sake in 2019. That year he launched into realising a long-held dream – to create a sake of his own.

Richard Geoffroy
Champagne chef de cave turned sake blender Richard Geoffroy.

That sake, IWA 5, was launched in May 2020. Made in collaboration with Ryuichiro Masuda of highly-regarded Toyama Prefecture-based Masuizumi, IWA 5 Assemblage 1 was a sake unlike any other.

What set Geoffrey’s creation apart was that his sake was technically a blend of sakes. Geoffrey effectively blended sakes made at Masuizumi using different yeast strains and rice varietals – Yamada Nishiki, Omachi, and Gohyakumangoku – into a single sake. He should know about blending, after all, having put together dozens of vintages from different assemblages of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir in his time at Dom Pérignon.

Assemblage 1 was followed by IWA 5 Assemblage 2 the following year.

While he worked on his assemblages, Geoffroy also launched another even more ambitious project – the building of his own sake brewery, Shiraiwa KK, in collaboration with renown Japanese architect Kengo Kuma. Assemblage 5 is slated to issue forth from the new facility, located in the town of Tateyama in Toyama Prefecture.

So can a former Chef de Cave teach the sake industry new tricks?

“Yes. And no,” Richard Geoffroy tells us.

“To be clear, I am not a toji. I am not a brewer,” explains Geoffroy, who was in town to promote his latest drop, the IWA 5 Assemblage 3. “My 28 years in winemaking and two years in sake does not make me an expert at brewing. I remain in awe and respect for the work that the tojis do,” he says.

Shiraiawa KK brewery
The Shiraiawa KK brewery in Tateyama, where future IWA assemblages will be made.

But the Japanese were so focused on making the best sake – based on legacy, terroir and ingredients – that they didn’t think about blending. While Japanese brewers do marry sake from different tanks of the same batch to achieve consistency each brewing season, they typically do not blend across sakes made with different rice and yeast types.

Bizarrely too, because from a regulation perspective there was no law stopping them from doing it either.

“And that’s where I come in,” Geoffroy says.

If the Japanese weren’t thinking of blending sake before, they certainly are now. Some sake makers across Japan have taken Geoffroy’s cue and have begun exploring blending their sakes.

In line with the IWA house style, IWA 5 Assemblage 3 puts an emphasis on palatability and finish. Like the earlier editions, IWA 5 Assemblage 3 was made at Masuizumi until Shiraiwa KK comes online.

“This is the second successive Assemblage I have formulated while in France, owing to the limits of the current global situation. The project of IWA 5 means continual experimentation, and I keep progressing as I walk. Having learned so much from Assemblages 1 and 2, I keep playing here along a very fine and fragile line of balance. This paradox of presence and weightlessness has been my joy to create,” shares Geoffrey.

IWA 5 Assemblage 3 is available through the official online shop starting on 7 July 2022 at a retail price of S$208. It can also be found at selected top restaurants throughout Singapore, such as Esora, Jaan By Kirk Westaway, and Waku Ghin.

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