In his search for renewed harmony at IWA, Richard Geoffroy pursues the dream of a grand Japanese sake. A sake absolutely true to sake—with its salient flow of sensations—yet embracing and expanded in character. A radiant sake. Such a paradoxical proposition cannot come from a single brew. It can only be achieved through blending, by design. Blending adds a paradigm to the established paradigm of rice polishing. The more blended, the more harmonious.
Through precise orchestration, five classes of elements sing in unison to create IWA 5. The rice class, for instance, comprises three varieties: Yamada Nishiki, Omachi, Gohyakumangoku. In the yeast class, five strains are brought together. Also brought into play are the origin of the rice, the yeast propagation method (moto) and the regimes of fermentation. The blend is the controlled interplay of these many instruments to define a world of possibilities and select the few ones worth pursuing and refining into euphony. It’s all there. In its right place. At the right moment.
The making of IWA 5 is not a stable recipe but an experimental process reconsidered every year. IWA 5 will evolve subtly, and from one year to the next new traits will emerge, and new facets appear.


Richard Geoffroy’s pursuit of beauty propelled him to the highest reaches of his profession. Born in the heart of Champagne country, he became the fifth chef de cave for Dom Pérignon Champagne and charted the course of the legendary wine for 28 years. He is now launching into a new experiment, hoping to contribute to a story started in Japan a thousand years ago: sake.
To Richard Geoffroy, Japan has never been an abstraction. Following an initial spark in 1991, countless trips have stoked his love for the country, its culture and its people. IWA, therefore, could never be a sake engineered from abroad, a sake bereft of center. In order to be true to sake, and be a true international sake, IWA needed strong roots, anchored in Japan, and to be made according to traditional methods in a brewery of its own design.


IWA has a definite point of origin: the site of Shiraiwa, located in the town of Tateyama (prefecture of Toyama). Hence the company name, Shiraiwa, and the brand’s name, IWA. Or “White Rock” and “Rock”. There, in a ten hectare rice paddy, the Shiraiwa kura will open in January 2021. It will sit on a line between mountain foothills and arable flat land, with access to pure local water straight from the rooftop of Japan, amidst some of the heaviest snowfall in the world. It’s not rare to meet groups of red-faced monkeys crossing the paddy fields.
To the south, the Hida Mountains extend across the entire region. They are dominated by Mount Tate, one of Japan’s “Three Holy Mountains”. To the north-west stands the city of Toyama, an entrepreneurial centre with ambitions of sustainability and a distinctly progressive spirit. On the horizon: the Sea of Japan. Mountains, land, sea, village, city: a quintessential Japanese landscape melding industry and agriculture, urbanism and rurality, tradition and modernity, purity and hybridity.
With the belief that his project needed a womb from which it could emerge fully formed, Richard Geoffroy chose this location for its beauty.


Sake is essential craft, endlessly perfected. In the thousand kuras dotting Japan, tojis and their teams perform a sophisticated, age-old, manual process. Rice is polished, washed, soaked, steamed, cooled, inverted, mashed, fermented, pressed - a miraculous transmutation of solid into liquid, cereal into alcohol. At a time when their number is in decline, it is a great privilege to create a contemporary kura. It will be designed by renowned architect Kengo Kuma.
The kura will be called Shiraiwa, after the site that welcomes it. Harmoniously slotted into the landscape, in profound dialogue with the history of rural architecture, it will channel the core principles of IWA: inclusivity, horizontality, community. Workers and guests, production and reception, will live under the same roof, share the same accommodations, and gather around a unique hearth. IWA’s unique approach to production informed the layout of the Shiraiwa kura. The fermentation room, for instance, has been designed to best accommodate the technicalities of blending.


Ryuichiro Masuda

IWA was brought to life by a constellation of passionate and creative minds.
Designer Marc Newson carved IWA into glass. He created the shape of the bottle by morphing traditional sake vessels and chose to finish it with an unconventionally dark, velvety sheen: such drama when the liquid is poured, like light emerging from deep shadows. Fused to the body as a thin layer of flat white glass, the mark drawn by calligrapher Mariko Kinoshita in collaboration with designer Hideki Nakajima breaks the stillness of the bottle. It’s an object made for pleasure, defined in relation with hand and skin, brimming with a warm humanity.
When Richard Geoffroy met architect Kengo Kuma, he found a gracious initiator into the realities of Japan. Kengo Kuma introduced Richard Geoffroy to another invaluable facilitator of the project: Ryuichiro Masuda, CEO of Masuda Shuzo, a family-owned sake company established in 1893. His native region of Toyama would become IWA’s hometown, and the place where Kengo Kuma would build his first sake brewery, a rare opportunity, even for a Japanese architect of Kuma’s stature.


Photography is one of the ways in which IWA makes sense of the world. Nao Tsuda is the first artist invited to create work in response to the landscape of Shiraiwa. “Winter”, presented here, is the first instalment of a year-long study.