Wine director Pollard to resign

Robin Pollard, executive director of the Washington Wine Commission for the past six years, announced Thursday that she will leave at the end of December.

"It's very much a personal decision," she said. "I've been in this position for six years, and I'm proud of what has been accomplished during my tenure. I feel like I'm leaving the commission at a really good point. We have a clear path forward."

Pollard, who worked for the state in Olympia before taking over the burgeoning wine industry, oversaw rapid growth. When she took the post in 2005, the state boasted 360 wineries. Today, there are more than 740 wineries in Washington -- and dozens of wineries now have multiple locations across the state.

Pollard came from the Midwest to Washington in 1994 to take over the state tourism bureau, a post she held for six years. Then she was appointed assistant director for economic development for the state by Gov. Gary Locke.

In 2005, she took the job of overseeing the wine industry and inherited an office that was in disarray when then-Executive Director Jane Baxter Lynn abruptly resigned after just nine months on the job. Pollard brought calmness to the position and built a strong, professional staff.

"She has an inner strength that a lot of people take for granted," said Kent Waliser, chairman of the Washington Wine Commission and general manager of Sagemoor Vineyards north of Pasco. "We've had our challenges in different aspects of the industry, and when things got the toughest, Robin dug in and worked harder. When you look at what has been accomplished, you appreciate her strength."

Waliser said the state wine industry has moved from adolescence to adulthood under Pollard's watch.

"The industry has grown up a little bit," he said.

Washington is the No. 2 wine-producing state in the country after California. The wine commission offices are in Seattle.

Pollard said she is pleased with the comprehensive marketing and business plans the wine commission put in place during her tenure, which include targeting national and international markets, as well as strengthening in-state sales.

"I'm really proud of the groundwork and foundation we laid out," she said.

Pollard, 56, said she has no immediate plans, though she will stay in Seattle. She has worked in government for the past 30 years and will take some time off before deciding what to do next.

"It's a very demanding job," she said, "and very rewarding. I've been the beneficiary of meeting some incredible people and having some incredible experiences."

Pollard said she will play a role in choosing her successor, though she said the ultimate decision will be made by the Washington Wine Commission board. Waliser said he wants to include the grape growers -- which have their own organization -- in the search process. Pollard agrees with the approach.

"It's all about the grapes," she said. "They have to feel like they're a part of what's happening and what we're doing."