Pittsburgh Winery provides a new, intimate place for local and touring acts | Music | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Pittsburgh Winery provides a new, intimate place for local and touring acts

"The venue itself kind of reminds me of a speakeasy, because you don't really know it's there."

Photo by Sarah Wilson
Pittsburgh Winery owner Tim Gaber at the "Songwriters in the Cellar" series

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Wolfson, an attorney by day, has long been a prolific traveler, with his trips around the U.S. centering on three things: wine, food and music. Through his travels, he connected with bands along the way, and he and Debby would host bands in their Allison Park home when the groups came through Pittsburgh. Having worked with local promoters in his day job, Wolfson would get bands gigs when he could.

The traffic of musical guests in the Wolfson home was getting hectic and he couldn't always find them a place to play. Having met Gaber through Engine House, another local winery where Gaber was previously a partner, Wolfson reached out to him about doing concerts.

"I came in to talk to Tim opening weekend or soon thereafter," Wolfson says. "He basically said to me, ‘You kept saying you wanted to do music — let's do it.'"

Shows started at the Winery in March 2013 and gradually the space became more and more in demand. Now, Wolfson says, they could do two or three shows a week if they said yes to everyone who wanted to play there. While a year ago he was reaching out to bands about shows, now he fields calls daily.

All of the touring bands stay at the Wolfsons' home, where they have hosted more than 30 bands and counting. Debby Wolfson describes it as a free bed-and-breakfast, with the bands getting a meal, and beds to sleep in.

"Sometimes it ends up it's a jam session at 3 in the morning, or sometimes doing a couple shots," Debby Wolfson says. "Or sometimes it's, ‘Hey, let's go to sleep, because I gotta get out of here at 6 in the morning.'"

While the Winery benefits in terms of wine sales when shows draw well, the money from ticket sales goes straight to the bands. "We're not interested in taking one dollar from the bands," Gaber says. "I think we both love and respect the musicians so much that we want them to get to the next city."

On the musicians' part, there's both an element of comfort and a level of nerves to playing the unique setup of the Winery. A wrong maneuver with an amp or bass drum, Arlo Aldo's Manchester notes, and 700 bottles' worth of wine could go uncorked.

"If you bump into walls at Smiling Moose, no one's going to notice," he says. "If you kinda bang into a chair at Club Café, its fine; they're chairs. But if you bang into a wine cask at a winery, you're probably not going to get asked back— or be allowed to play that night."

As the music community grows in Pittsburgh, Gaber sees a need for more and different venues — and he thinks the Winery helps fill that need.

"Our intention wasn't initially to become a major music venue or anything like that," he says. "I think we're just filling a small niche that needed to be filled, and we just do it because we love it."

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