John and Michele Truchard are successfully marketing their JaM Cellars wines and having a musical blast while they’re at it. Their popular brand is the presenting sponsor of BottleRock Napa Valley, their First Street location is a hip venue for tasting and live performances, and the Margrit Mondavi Theater at the Napa Valley Opera House is now also officially the JaM Cellars Ballroom.
In a conversation at their First Street venue, the couple talked about the evolution of JaM Cellars in the Napa music scene.
“It’s all been totally fun for us,” John Truchard said. “Music and the arts have always been part of the valley.”
The Truchards, married for 19 years with three children, grew up in Napa, attended Vintage High in the same class as BottleRock partners Dave Graham and Jason Scoggins, and began dating while attending San Diego State University.
John’s father, Anthony Truchard, had established Truchard Vineyards in Carneros after a successful medical career. John spent much of the free time of his youth learning about the cultivation of grapes for wine.
Michele is a fourth-generation Napan and, like John, a second-generation winemaker. “My dad was in real estate when I was growing up,” she said, “but we had a little vineyard in our backyard and used to make wine for fun. I got to stomp grapes when I was a little kid, and we made some wine at home, but never commercially. John actually planted my dad’s first vineyard.”
JaM at BottleRock
The Truchards were only minimally involved when BottleRock began in 2013. “That first year, we shared a wine tent, but we weren’t involved in sponsorship, though we wanted to be,” John said. “Michele would say, ‘We’d love to invest but we really need to put all of our money toward building our wine brands.’
“We committed to our own tent in ‘14, and then it was in 2015 that we got the second stage sponsorship. In ‘16 and ‘17 we were the presenting sponsors and the main stage sponsors.”
“The benefit of being a presenting sponsor” he added, “is that you don’t just get the advertising benefit the day of the festival, but everything leading up to it is ‘BottleRock presented by JaM Cellars.’ So you are identified in all of it throughout the whole year. Being the presenting sponsor cost twice as much, but its value is 10 times as much.”
While a number of wine tents at BottleRock feature live, typically acoustic, performances by festival artists, JaM Cellars took it to another level with their JamPad in 2017.
“We started it in 2016,” Michele said, “but it was back in a corner and wasn’t as visible. And it was only a little bit elevated.”
This year, the JamPad was a striking substantial venue of its own at the edge of the main green. “It was an elevated experience within GA (general admission),” John said, “so it was almost a VIP equivalent. In some ways, it was almost too popular because we couldn’t fit everybody in there. There was security all around it.”
“People were happy if they made it in there,” Michele added, “and really angry if they couldn’t.”
“In the future, we’ll hopefully design it so that when artists are performing, people won’t have to be in the JamPad itself,” John said. “We’ll probably have the stage go almost out to the green so that more people can enjoy it.
“The idea would be that as soon as the music stops on the main stage, we start playing music on the JamPad. It would almost become the sixth stage at BottleRock, although it’s not really in the lineup per se.”
Music at JaM Cellars on First Street
The Truchards opened their First Street location in May of 2016. Its chic design was about music from the start, with an area that converts readily into a stage, and with something unique for a wine venue, a fully functioning recording studio.
“The main purpose was, first, to give people a location to come and visit us, and second, to create an experience in both tasting and music,” John said. “John Anthony’s (Truchard Vineyard’s location next door) is strictly a tasting experience, telling the stories of the different vineyards, the lineages, the clones, the winemaking process, the barrels.
“At the JaM tasting room, people are going to come, have a glass of wine and then what are they going to do? Well, the music concept was kind of a natural. We started off having live music every fourth Friday because we didn’t know how it was going to go. It turned out to be pretty successful. So we did every Friday. And let’s add Thursdays and give locals a reason to come out on Thursday nights. So now we do music every Thursday and every Friday night.”
At the Napa Valley Opera House
Last April, through a licensing agreement, the second story of the historic building at 1030 Main St. became the JaM Cellars Ballroom at the Margrit Mondavi Theater at the Napa Valley Opera House. Everyone agrees that it is an unwieldy name, but it continues to honor the woman who pioneered the presentation of live music in wine country and adds, through naming rights, a new source of financial support for a venue that has struggled for survival over the decades.
“You have this beautiful resource in downtown Napa, and what came to mind was how do you help support it?,” John said. “Ultimately, support is a function of dollars, but how do you do it in a way that actually puts the venue to use and works? It’s an outstanding space. We have the upstairs bar, the upstairs VIP area. It’s big enough that it’s festive, but small enough that it can still be kind of intimate.”
The vision for the Ballroom is a synergy of the landlord (the Napa Valley Opera House) and its community events, the tenant (Blue Note Napa) and its occasional large audience upstairs performances, a regular calendar of standing rock shows produced by BottleRock Presents (Latitude 38 Entertainment), along with the brand identity and financial support of JaM Cellars.
“When Blue Note came in, they were looking for all of the ways to make this work,” he said. “It was really the combination of players that made this go. No Blue Note, probably no JaM Cellars Ballroom. No Latitude 38, probably no JaM Cellars Ballroom. But you put those things together and okay, we’re here supporting it.”
JaM Cellars wines are Butter Chardonnay, JaM Cabernet and Toast Sparkling. They will be adding a rosé to the lineup soon.
JaM Cellars at 1460 First St., Napa. Call 707-265-7577 or visit. JamCellars.com.