Sake Souls – IWA Sake’s Richard Geoffroy
One of the best aspects of having a brick and mortar store are the visits! We love visitors. And last month we had a great visit that really blew us away. And it was by a Champagne guy. Well sort of.
There are a lot of stories out there in the sake world these days. And that’s a good thing. Some are about wine guys making sake, and some are about sake guys trying to make sake like wine. And yes there is a Champagne guy Regis Camus who started HEAVENSAKE. All cool stories. But one story that I sort of missed was the story about a very famous Champagne guy who literally quit Champagne to make sake in his own vision. And so I got out our sparkling wine flutes in anticipation of his visit.
When Richard Geoffroy walked into the store I thought for sure that the former Chef de Cave and face of Dom Pérignon was going to taste us on his sparkling sake. Wrong! Rather in walked a very special person who has been deeply and profoundly touched by sake. I could tell that he didn't have one “aha” moment because he probably had three or four. His eyes lit up when speaking about nihonshu, and I knew then that he was a sake soul, and he wasn’t carrying sparkling sake.
In 2018, Richard left one of the most high profile positions in all of the Champagne world and moved to Toyama Japan to team up with a brewery called Shiraiwa to build a world class sake brewing facility to craft his vision of sake. He later added a toji formerly from Kenbishi, and they set out to make a singular sake that has many facets to it. Their first release was in 2020 (good or bad omen?) and we tasted the 3rd batch of their not so secret formula that is typically aged for a year in the bottle.
Let me first describe the man, and I think that will help better describe the sake. Brains, passion and soul oozed from Richard and we spoke for well over an hour. His eyes would widen whenever we’d teach him something new about sake then you could almost see him file that info away in some passion vault deep within. First and foremost he loves Japan. Secondly, he loves sake. And this is a guy who doesn’t throw love around. Being so focused on his style of making Champagne is both a virtue and a curse when making sake, but I feel that certain themes have been constructed and grooved in place. He likes the feel of sake as much as he likes the flavor. He talks about the “glide” and “flow” of sake when comparing it to his Champagne making days, and he is all about drinkability.
Ironically, we talked about what the Japanese like and don’t like in high-end premium sake. He had his opinions about most of them tasting the same way, and also being nose driven. I think it’s important that he said this because it helped create his own template for his “style.” What is his style and is it good?
First and foremost Geoffroy-san’s style is about creating as much complexity as possible, using as many ingredients as possible, and blending as much as possible. Wait what? Yup, his sake is literally a mouthful of lots of things and motions, and I tried to keep up. He uses three different rice vareitals (Omachi, Yamadanishiki, Gohyakumangoku) milled to 35% and 5 different brewing yeasts (ergo Iwa 5). The yeasts used are a secret, but he told us, and it made my brain swirl. And then there are the motions, using different milling rates, using different quantities of each rice varietal, using different yeast starters, using blending techniques, and finally aging the end result. It’s a lot. And I would love to have tasted his first batches, as they are purposely different. He grew a big smile when I said that this should be his selling point, to continually have a difference in each batch rather than trying to achieve one standard flavor and feeling.
We then tasted his Junmai Daiginjo, and like him it was very complex, very alive, and in the end found a nice balance in the palate with an emphasis on the lingering tail. It tasted unique, but also friendly with a nice acidity play and an uplifting feeling. Of course this is story sake, so I tried to really taste each of the yeasts and attempted to pull each of the rice flavors. Again, it was a lot. But, everything in each sip has a purpose. And I think that’s the best way to describe the man and his sake – purposeful.
Richard and his associate said that their sake is mainly for restaurants, but after seeing and talking with us he would be “honored if we would sell Iwa 5.” And we will with great purpose and flow. It will be available later this year.
What a cool dude.