Uptown Theater in downtown Napa doesn’t have to be profitable to be successful. At least that’s the new owner’s philosophy.
“The wine business 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 all his businesses are in the black. “If we don’t make money from a show, we get value from marketing the wines.”
JaM Cellars closed on the purchase of the 863-seat music venue in late 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 using its music venues to promote its wine brands, such as Butter chardonnay. They do this by working with musicians to create videos that promote them, the upcoming concert and JaM wines at the same time. The intro or as it is known in the video world is all about a young and diverse crowd, albeit of drinking age, enjoying the wines of JaM Cellars, floating in 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 solo music venue to be profitable. That’s why Truchard believes JaM Cellars as a promoter makes sense.
Truchard has no plans to change the Uptown Theater name, but plans to add JaM Cellars Presents before a music acts name, similar to Live Nation. This will help support his main business – wine.
Truchard owns the nearby John Anthony Vineyards tasting room 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 it became a presenting sponsor of BottleRock, Napa’s annual multi-day spring music festival. It was a deal Truchard had been interested in since the first festival in 2013. Changes in the festival’s ownership helped secure the partnership.
Truchard’s connection to the BottleRock Napa Valley operators dates back to his childhood. Truchard and his wife Michele graduated from Vintage High School in Napa in 1990 with Latitude 38 Entertainment owners Dave Graham, Justin Drago and Jason Scoggins. L38 is the entertainment company behind BottleRock.
Although Truchard did not disclose the cost of the sponsorship, he said he did not receive a price cut from his friends.
“John and Michele could not be better partners in the Napa Valley music scene. Anything that’s good for live music in Napa is good for everybody,” BottleRock spokesman Tom Fuller told the Business Journal.
Truchard pointed out how wineries and music are not a new concept. Robert Mondavi Winery has been hosting concerts since at least 2005. Ken Tesler’s Blue Note Charles Circle Summer Sessions can be found in St. Helena. The Saratoga Mountain Winery has a 2,500-seat outdoor concert hall.
In 2016, JaM Cellars Wine & Music Studio was launched. The casual atmosphere can accommodate 65 people. Mostly local bands play there.
“We call it a wine and music studio, but all the profit is from the sale of wine, so (the place) is profitable,” Truchard said. “On music nights, we just started charging $10 an envelope. People like that they can reserve seats.”
In 2021, the Truchards bought 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 lease the lower part of an 1800 building from Truchards. He opened the 190-seat cabaret-style jazz club in 2016. Blue Note Napa is part of a larger international chain that first opened in New York in 1981.
Upstairs from the opera house is the remodeled, rebranded JaM Cellars Ballroom, a 650-seat music venue.
Visit Napa Valley, the agency responsible for promoting the region to tourists, says the music scene is a growing part of its marketing strategy.
“We’re looking to expand the different concerts here throughout the year and what’s going on in local venues,” Sarah Gillihan, director of communications, told the Business Journal. “The music halls are certainly a benefit to visitors. Between BottleRock and the Oxbow River Stage and concerts taking place at the Blue Note and with Charles Krug, there is much more in terms of musical options for visitors and residents.
Truchard’s goal is to double the number of shows put on annually at the Uptown Theater to about 100, possibly opening one more night — possibly Thursday.
“The reason I think we can do more is probably our risk tolerance,” Truchard said.
George Altamura, Uptown’s previous owner, brought in mostly rock bands that had their heyday in the 1970s and 1980s. Altamura, who is 90 years old, has been a part of Napa’s wine, entertainment and real estate world for decades. He restored the theater, which opened in 1937, to its original Art Deco decor, before converting it into a live entertainment venue in 2010.
Truchard, who just turned 50, wants to expand the musical genres to include younger acts as well as some country acts that have crossover appeal.
“The goal is to have a wide variety of programs that appeal to all audiences,” he said. He expects ticket prices to range from $50 to $250. “This is the next level – we’re saying we’re going to make music all year round.”