This article is a part of our inaugural Next Wave Awards. For the full list of 2021 winners, check out the whole series here.

If the past almost two years have taught us anything, it’s that food and beverage industry professionals are not afraid to get creative. And there’s perhaps no better example of such imagination than the ongoing reinvention of Kindred and Ruffian, two hidden gems tucked away in NYC’s East Village neighborhood. The small restaurant and wine bar, respectively, boast some of the city’s most exciting wine lists, curated by sommelier and co-owner Alexis Percival and co-beverage director Patrick Cournot.

Percival, who has worked as a sommelier for over 10 years, continues to curate the wine list at Kindred as the restaurant’s identity evolves. “Initially it was Adriatic themed, but taking some time off to creatively reimagine it created space for what we really intended, which was a wine adventure — a food and wine trip through the former Venetian Republic trade routes, as far as Crete,” Percival says. “This expanded offering has made the list more diverse and thematically balanced.”

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Meanwhile, Ruffian, a tiny wine bar located just over a block away from Kindred, recently underwent an expansion after purchasing the space next door. While the establishment formerly offered vegan and vegetarian-focused fare, it now has oysters on its à la carte and tasting menus.

There, Percival offers blind tastings, which, in her words, are Not As Douchey As It Sounds. “If you are a curious person,” she says, “learning about wine will never be boring.”

The two restaurants are known for their extensive lists, including unique natural wines from lesser-known regions. Expect everything from Slovenian sparkling to orange wine from Croatia.

As passionate as Percival is about good wine, the artist and somm is just as outspoken about the social issues that matter to her. Last fall, as Covid-19 cases rose, Percival — alongside her Kindred and Ruffian co-owners Cournot and Moshe Schulman — encouraged their fellow restaurateurs to shut down indoor dining, and government officials to provide financial aid to those in the hospitality industry.

Percival has also spoken out about the sexism that remains prevalent in the wine industry, from wage gaps to the underestimation of women somms by their male counterparts. In a New York Times interview, Percival noted that, in conversations with women she respects in the industry, being talked over, ignored, and belittled by male colleagues during tastings is a common refrain.

This led Percival to start a female-only tasting group in 2018. The group is meant to give female somms a place to taste and learn alongside one another, away from the male gaze — and the threats of interruption or harassment it often brings. Percival says that one of the most exciting things she has accomplished this year is reestablishing the group after a long hiatus due to Covid-19. “The world has changed and even evolved in a remarkably short time,” Percival says. “I’m excited about how the group functions now and where it’s going.” With the efforts of Percival and her cohort, it will no doubt continue to push the conversation around wine forward.