Meet Keith Johnson, Manager & soon-to-be sommelier, and join him for a Christmas Wine Tasting this Wednesday, December 23 at 7:15 p.m.
It’s a party every weekend at Pagan River Wine Merchants…well, a party in a bottle, anyway. As manager, Keith Johnson explains, they uncork a bottle on Fridays for customers to sample throughout the weekend. The selected wine is usually something new they’ve just purchased, so it’s great for the staff to get the customer’s response to the new product and yes, taste it for themselves.
Sound like a good gig? It is if you’re passionate about wine – and Keith Johnson is!
After months of planning, renovating and preparation, Pagan River Wine Merchants opened their doors in April of 2015. The vision of the Pack family who own the shop (and the adjacent Smithfield Station and Boardwalk Shops) is to sell local wines, Virginia wine and wines from across the world. They also saw an opportunity to educate the community on wine, its history, and its best food pairings.
Keith was part of the team from the very beginning, from selecting and ordering the inventory, to designing the layout of the retail space and merchandise displays so that the shop has an open and inviting feel.
Though they specialize in wine and gourmet food items, Pagan River Wine Merchants also offers much more for visitors and locals alike: gifts and Smithfield Station gear, Smithfield souvenirs, locally sourced peanuts, YETI products, Mud-pie, Blue Crab Bay Stoneware, and even a few fabulous antiques.
For Keith though, the best part of his job is in pairing not just a wine with food, but a customer with the perfect wine. He remembers one man in particular…
“One afternoon, on his way to a dinner party, a man stopped in the shop and requested a Syrah to take to dinner. After going through all of the Syrahs that we had, he asked what I recommended. I pulled out the Boom Boom Syrah by Charles Smith. The man seemed a little uneasy when he heard the name and saw the black and white picture of a bomb on the label. He wasn’t sure if I was being serious, and said the wine looked too cheap and he could never take it to a dinner party. Then he asked me why I chose that particular wine as a recommendation. I explained that it was delicious and well made. He decided to trust my recommendation, albeit with hesitation.
“Weeks later a different customer came in and asked if I carried a wine called Boom Boom. I said, with excitement, yes I did. I asked her how she knew about this wine. She then began to tell me a story about how a man brought an interesting looking bottle of wine, with a picture of a black and white bomb on it, to a dinner party that she had hosted. She told me they laughed at the label and expected dirt-cheap wine but instead were happily surprised when the wine was delicious and paired perfectly with their meal.
Nothing makes a seller of wine happier than knowing they made a great recommendation for wine that potentially made their customer’s night memorable. And always remember, the label on the bottle isn’t everything. You’re not drinking the picture but instead the delicious liquid inside!”
Here are a few fun facts about Pagan River Wine Merchants:
Did you know that you can purchase a bottle of wine from Pagan River Wine Merchants and take it to Smithfield Station to enjoy for lunch or dinner? The restaurant will open the bottle with no corkage fee applied (applies to same day purchases only).
Did you know that Pagan River Wine Merchants holds wine tastings the last Friday of every month? Tastings begin at 7:15 p.m. and usually run till about 9:00 p.m. Sample a variety of wines, along with a cheese and charcuterie board for your snacking pleasure. And this Wednesday, Pagan River Wine Merchants invites you to a special Christmas Wine Tasting at 7:15 p.m. Cost is $10 per person which includes a cheese and charcuterie board. The event will be hosted by Ashton Little of Republic National. RSVP’s are requested in advance.
Are you looking for something healthy and delicious for lunch? Something quick, but an improvement over the same old fast food? Pagan River Wine Merchants offers sliced cheese, pre-packaged meats and gourmet snacks. And if you’re off the clock, they even have single-serve wine bottles, so you can grab some food and a bottle and head across the street for a picnic at Windsor Castle Park!
Here are a few fun facts about Keith Johnson:
He was born in Hampton, Virginia, but his family has roots in Smithfield as well.
This 2009 Smithfield High School graduate earned his Bachelor of Science Degree from Old Dominion University. Keith sees getting in at the very beginning of this new venture as the perfect opportunity to combine his love for wine with his education in psychology.
His brother, Patrick is finishing up basic training (Army) in Georgia and afterwards will be stationed in Hawaii for three years – another great gig for a Johnson brother.
Tennis has been a big part of Keith’s life since 2003. He plays on a league in Newport News, volunteers as Smithfield High School’s assistant tennis coach, and is always available to hit the courts with friends.
Keith is truly passionate about wine. In fact, he’s pursuing his sommelier certification by reading up on oenology (the study of wine) whenever he can. Certification involves completing two levels of study and tests. This process usually takes a few years, but Keith is well on his way and hopes to test for level one in January.
This Eagle Scout (Troop 3, Smithfield) likes to go hiking and camping. “I am big nature fanatic and love to be outside whenever I have the opportunity.”
Keith has a pet hamster named Charlotte.
His dream vacation is somewhere exotic. “There are too many different cultures in the world to just hang out by the beach or spend it camping in the woods. I want to go to a different city every week and immerse myself in the culture, cuisine, and landscapes.”
Stop by Pagan River Wine Merchants sometime soon. (Did we mention the gorgeous view of the Pagan River from the shop?) Meet Keith, or one of the shop’s other knowledgeable staff. They are all ready to help you make memories. As Keith puts it so well, “Wine is meant to be shared with friends, over meals, while telling stories. If we can help you make your night memorable by suggesting a good wine then our work has been deemed a success.”
Pagan River Wine Merchants
409 South Church Street, Suites F & G in the Boardwalk Shops at Smithfield Station,
Smithfield, VA 23430
Mon-Sat: 11:00 a.m. – 7:00 p.m.
Sun: 11:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.