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Winery owner plans to expand downtown Napa nightlife via Uptown theater purchase

Uptown Theater in downtown Napa doesn’t have to be profitable for it to be successful. At least that’s the philosophy of the new owner.

“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 make sure all of his businesses are in the black. “If we don’t make money on a show, we get value out of marketing the wines.”

JaM Cellars closed on the purchase of the 863-seat music venue in late June. While the purchase price has not been disclosed, Truchard told the Business Journal it was more than $10 million.

Truchard said his marketing team has become adept at leveraging his music venues to promote his 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 all at the same time. The intro, or bump as it’s known in the video world, is all about a young and diverse crowd, albeit drinking age, enjoying JaM Cellars wines floating in water, while dancing, and listening to music.

“It’s an easy way for people to receive our marketing message,” Truchard explained.

He knows it is difficult for a standalone music venue to be profitable. That is why Truchard believes having JaM Cellars as the promoter makes sense.

Truchard has no intention of changing the name of Uptown Theater, but does plan to add JaM Cellars Presents before a musical acts name much like Live Nation does. This will help to support his primary business—wine.

Truchard owns the nearby 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 that 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 the presenting sponsor of BottleRock, the annual multi-day spring music festival in Napa. It was a deal Truchard was interested in since the inaugural festival in 2013. Festival ownership changes helped secure the partnership.

Truchard’s connection to the operators of BottleRock Napa Valley go 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 stages BottleRock.

While Truchard would not divulge the cost of the sponsorship, he said he didn’t get a price break from his friends.

“John and Michele could not be better partners in the Napa Valley music scene. Anything that is 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 Krug Summer Sessions can be found in St. Helena. The Mountain Winery in Saratoga has a 2,500-seat outdoor concert venue.

It was in 2016 that JaM Cellars Wine & Music Studio was launched. The casual setting can accommodate 65 people. Mostly local bands play there.

“We call it a wine and music studio, but all the profit is from selling wine, so that (venue) is profitable,” Truchard said. “On music nights we just started charging a $10 cover. People like that they can reserve seats.”

In 2021, the Truchards bought the Napa Valley Opera House for $4.2 million. The deed says the historic building must always be a performing arts venue.

Ken Tesler continues to lease the bottom part of 1800’s-era building from the Truchards. He opened the 190-seat cabaret style jazz club in 2016. Blue Note Napa is part of the larger international chain that first opened in New York City in 1981.

Upstairs at the opera house is the remodeled, rebranded JaM Cellars Ballroom, a 650-person music venue.

What comes next

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 do make sure to amplify the different concerts here throughout the year, and what is going on at local venues,” Sarah Gillihan, director of communications, told the Business Journal. “Music venues are certainly a benefit to visitors. Between BottleRock and Oxbow River Stage and the concerts going on at Blue Note and with Charles Krug there is just a lot more in terms of music opportunity for visitors and residents alike.

Truchard’s goal is to double the number of shows staged annually at Uptown Theater to about 100, while possibly being open another night—likely Thursdays.

“The reason I think we can do more is probably our tolerance for risk,” Truchard said.

George Altamura, the Uptown’s prior owner, mostly brought in rock bands whose heyday was in the 1970s and 1980s. Altamura, who is in his 90s, has been part of the Napa wine, entertainment and real estate worlds for decades. He restored the theater, which opened in 1937, to its original art-deco décor, then made it a live entertainment venue in 2010.

Truchard, who just turned 50, wants to expand music genres to include younger artists as well as some country acts who have crossover appeal.

“The goal is to have a wide variety of programming that is attractive to all audiences,” he said. He expects ticket prices to range from $50 to $250. “This is the next level—saying we will do music year-round.”

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