Uptown Theater in downtown Napa doesn’t have to be profitable to be successful. At least that’s the philosophy of the new owner.
“The wine trade is absolutely our core business. M-tusic is a way to promote it,” said John Truchard, owner of JaM Cellars.
Still, Truchard intends to do what he can to ensure that all of his businesses are in the black. “If we don’t make money on a show, we profit from the marketing of wines.”
JaM Cellars completed the purchase of the 863-seat concert hall at the end of June. Although the purchase price was not disclosed, Truchard told the Business Journal it was more than $10 million.
Truchard said his marketing team has become adept at leveraging his live music venues to promote his wine brands, such as Butter chardonnay. To do this, they work with musicians to create videos that promote them, the upcoming concert and JaM wines at the same time. The intro, or bump as it’s known in the video world, is about a young and diverse crowd, albeit of drinking age, tasting JaM Cellars wines floating in the water, while dancing and listening to music.
“It’s an easy way for people to get our marketing message,” Truchard explained.
He knows it’s hard for a standalone music venue to be profitable. That’s why Truchard thinks having JaM Cellars as a promoter makes sense.
Truchard has no plans to change the name of Uptown Theater, but plans to add JaM Cellars Presents before a musical act name much like Live Nation does. This will help support his main business, wine.
Truchard owns John Anthony Vineyards Tasting Lounge and JaM Cellars Wine & Music Studio, part of the John Anthony Family of Wines portfolio. Truchard also owns the Napa Valley Opera House which houses the Blue Note Jazz Club and the JaM Cellars Ballroom.
how it started
JaM Cellars’ first foray into the music scene was in 2016, when he became the title sponsor of BottleRock, Napa’s annual multi-day spring music festival. It was a deal Truchard had been interested in since the inaugural festival in 2013. Changes in festival ownership helped secure the partnership.
Truchard’s ties to BottleRock Napa Valley operators date back to his childhood. Truchard and his wife, Michele, graduated from Napa’s Vintage High School in 1990 with Latitude 38 Entertainment owners Dave Graham, Justin Dragoo and Jason Scoggins. L38 is the entertainment company that features BottleRock.
Although Truchard did not disclose the cost of the sponsorship, he said he did not get a price reduction from his friends.
“John and Michele couldn’t be better partners on the Napa Valley music scene. Anything that’s good for live music in Napa is good for everyone,” BottleRock spokesman Tom Fuller told The Business Journal.
Truchard pointed out that wineries and music are not a new concept. Robert Mondavi Winery has been hosting concerts since at least 2005. Ken Tesler’s Charles Krug Blue Note summer sessions are in St. Helena. The Mountain Winery in Saratoga features a 2,500-seat outdoor concert hall.
It was in 2016 that JaM Cellars Wine & Music Studio was launched. The relaxed setting can accommodate 65 people. Most local bands play there.
“We call it a wine and music studio, but all of the profits come from selling wine, so (the venue) is profitable,” Truchard said. “On music nights, we just started charging $10 for a cover. People like it, they can reserve seats.
In 2021, the Truchards purchased the Napa Valley Opera House for $4.2 million. The act says the historic building must always be a performing arts venue.
Ken Tesler continues to rent the lower portion of the 1800s-era building from the Truchards. He opened the 190-seat cabaret-style jazz club in 2016. Blue Note Napa is part of the largest international chain that opened in New York in 1981.
Upstairs from the opera house is the renovated and rebranded JaM Cellars Ballroom, a concert hall that can accommodate 650 people.
What happens after
Visit Napa Valley, the agency responsible for promoting the region to tourists, says the music scene is playing an increasing role in its marketing strategy.
“We make sure to amplify the various concerts here throughout the year, and what’s happening in local venues,” Sarah Gillihan, director of communications, told The Business Journal. “Concert halls are definitely a plus for visitors. Between BottleRock and Oxbow River Stage and the concerts that take place at Blue Note and with Charles Krug, there is much more in terms of musical opportunities for visitors and residents.
Truchard’s goal is to double the number of shows held annually at the Uptown Theater to around 100, while eventually being open another night, likely Thursdays.
“The reason why I think we can do more is probably our risk tolerance,” Truchard said.
George Altamura, the former owner of Uptown, mainly brought in rock bands whose heyday dates back to the 1970s and 1980s. Altamura, which is over 90 years old, is part of the worlds of wine, entertainment and of Napa real estate for decades. He restored the theatre, which opened in 1937, to its original art-deco decor, then turned it into a performance hall in 2010.
Truchard, who just turned 50, wants to expand musical genres to include younger artists as well as country artists who have crossover appeal.
“The goal is to have a very varied and attractive programming for all audiences,” he said. He expects ticket prices to range from $50 to $250. “It’s the next level – saying we’ll be making music all year round.”