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A tulip glass of Dom Pérignon and a glass of Iwa 5 sake stood side by side as Richard Geoffroy, the man who made both, circled the dining room at Jungsik, a Korean restaurant with two Michelin stars in lower Manhattan. The pairing feast was about to begin. 

The Iwa 5, he announced, would be served at body temperature, cellar temperature and freezing throughout the meal, “to fully understand its yin-yang duality.” And to showcase how one luxury product had given rise to the other, guests could sip both sake and Champagne with every course—with the tuna and caviar, the charred octopus, the sea urchin bibimbap. 

Diners had paid $800 apiece to experience the unlikely synergy between East and West and to be among the first in America to enjoy Geoffroy’s second act. After 28 years of making Champagne as chef de cave at Dom Pérignon, he’d begun brewing sake in western Japan. Iwa (derived from Shiraiwa, the village where it’s produced) is the result. 

“I’d been getting into the maze and layers of Japan, having visited almost 100 times since the 1990s,” Geoffroy says. “I was bored with being a visitor and wanted to build something there.” 

And build he did, hiring renowned Japanese architect Kengo Kuma to design his sleek brewery, with floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking rice fields framed by the Tateyama Mountains. Based on Japanese farmstead design, the building has everything—reception area, VIP accommodations, production line—under one roof. Geoffrey also enlisted industrial-design star Marc Newson, who had created new bottle designs at Dom Pérignon, to imagine the packaging for Iwa. Kuma had previously worked on a project, never realized, for the Champagne brand, and the collaboration with both men was the result, Geoffroy says, of “a 20-year friendship with both Marc and Kengo.” 

Winemaker Richard Geoffroy

Winemaker Richard Geoffroy Courtesy of Richard Geoffroy

Geoffroy chose the rugged Toyama prefecture of western Japan for its pristine isolation and for the purity of its snow-melt water. “Sake is all about water, its second main ingredient,” he says. “The water from the mountain streams down to my place. Tateyama water is the most revered in Japan. That water goes into Iwa.” 

Along with building a new brewery, he has rebuilt the architecture of sake itself, applying the blending skills he honed at Dom Pérignon to an entirely new medium. Iwa is made with three types of rice fermented with five different yeast strains. “Most of the great sakes are more nose than palate,” Geoffroy says. “I reworked the equilibrium to make it richer while retaining the essential element of weightlessness.” 

The same top chefs who embrace Dom Pérignon have likewise gravitated to Iwa, which retails for approximately $195 per bottle. “Richard has pushed the [sake-making] process to the limit,” says Daniel Boulud, who serves Iwa 5 at his new omakase sushi spot, Joji, in New York’s Grand Central Terminal. “I’m sure his experimentations will lead to a revolution in the sake world.” 

Daniel Humm of Eleven Madison Park echoes the sentiment. “There’s that great quote: ‘You need to know the rules before you can break them,’ ” he says. “Richard understands the craft and where rules can be broken.” 

Iwa 5 comes in a Marc Newson–designed bottle

Iwa 5 comes in a Marc Newson–designed bottle. Courtesy of IWA Sake of Japan

Geoffroy describes his Iwa releases as “assemblages” instead of vintages. “ ‘Vintage’ to me is not relevant, because it references the growing season,” he says. “With Iwa, it’s much more about blending.” Still, he has begun experimenting with aging Iwa in the bottle, an innovation in the world of sake. “Iwa might be the only sake claiming to improve in the bottle for many years,” he says. 

This spring, Geoffroy plans to begin bringing chefs from around the world to his new Japanese brewery. “I want to contribute to the local community and make Tateyama a true culinary destination,” he says. One of the first on the invite list is Kyle Connaughton, of the Michelin three-star restaurant Single Thread, in Healdsburg, Calif., who calls it “a big honor” to be invited. “Richard knows all the greatest chefs in the world,” he says. 

Beyond producing some of the world’s finest sake, Geoffroy takes a philosophical view of his new passion project, which he hopes will help expand sake’s international reach. “Sake should be universally appreciated,” he says. “It’s overdue—the time has come.”