Michael Fadem’s love of beverage came while working in high-end coffee in such New York institutions as Oslo, Café Pedlar and Variety. He transitioned into wine at Marlow & Sons, then became a general manager at Roman’s and Estela. In 2016 he and partners opened Ops, a Neapolitan-style pizza place in Bushwick, where the focus is on the kind of wine that Fadem loves to drink and support—from Georgian orange wine to natural Beaujolais. It’s working. This year, Ops was named a James Beard semifinalist for Outstanding Wine Program.
Would you call the Ops list a natural wine list?
You could say that. That’s definitely the focus. I try to have as many wines possible that have no additives at all; no sulfur or anything. There are definitely a few that will have sulfur or something, but if I believe in the winemaker and trust that they made this decision for a reason, then most important thing to me is that we are supporting people who are very purposeful and have the passion to make something really pure.
Your number one new success is a wine from a producer in Beaujolais [Julie Balagny Fleurie Cayenne Gamay]. What do you think drove that wine’s success?
I think I try to get away from the restaurant being called Italian and think of it more as an American place; a Brooklyn-inspired place. I want the wine list to be really broad and more evocative of a style of wine rather than where it’s from. I think Beaujolais, especially in the natural realm of Beaujolais, is a really drinkable thing. Pizza is a light food, especially Neapolitan-style pizza which is what we do here, and I try to think about wines that are lighter in body that we all enjoy drinking with the food we serve.
The Julie Balagny is relatively distinct. She has become a kind of cult favorite in the natural wine community, so people see that wine on the shelf and order it. It’s a pretty sexy wine. It’s very captivating.
Your number one wine is a Georgian orange wine. How did that happen?
The Pheasant’s Tears Kakheti Valley Rkatsiteli is orange, with a long maceration. The importer has become a great friend of ours; he imports a lot of Georgian wine and has been importing this one producer for many years. He brought in the 2012 because he knew that that was possibly the only vintage that they ever made without additives. I didn’t know this at the time, but I tasted it and when I did, I said: “Wow, this is the best wine I’ve ever tasted!” I really loved it. It’s very broad and deep and very pure tasting, and when he told me that story I thought it was exciting to see that difference so plainly. So, I bought some to serve and we just couldn’t keep it in stock. We probably bought more of that wine than any wine all year.
Do people gravitate toward orange wine? Does it go best with any dish in particular?
Orange wine is probably our most popular wine. We always have two available by the glass, one a little lighter and one more intensely orange, to give a little variation. So, people come in a lot say “I want to try your orange wine.” It’s become a thing for sure. The Pheasant’s Tears rkatsiteli in particular has a really cool texture. It’s darker in color, so you kind of taste with your eyes. It’s a deep almost auburn color.
I find that orange wine often goes well with meats and something fatty. I was pouring orange wine for a tasting menu but pairing it with the main course that was a steak. People were outraged, but it really goes well together! We have a pizza called Pops. It has Guanciale and tomato sauce and salted cheese on it. I think orange wine goes really well with that pizza.